The power of a good today

The power of a good today

Have a good one,” the clerk said, as I left the grocery store. The mail carrier said the same, as did a dozen others in the last week or so. That’s become the accepted shorthand, apparently, for “Have a good day” — and I don’t like it. “Have a good one” can mean anything: a good sleep, a good game, a good hot dog. Nothing profound there. But “a good day”? That is something worth wishing on someone, because most of the world has a bad day most of the time, and because even we lucky sorts — who have the luxury to write or read columns like this — have had enough bad days to make us appreciate a good one.

The Torah portion is about the power of a single good day.

“See,” God says, as the parsha begins, “I give you today blessing and curse.” This simple sentence has attracted considerable controversy, because it so defies grammatical logic. 

To begin with, “I give you” (present tense) ought to read “I gave you” (past tense) since the Torah had already been given. Tradition justifies the present tense on the grounds that the message of the sentence never grows old; it describes ongoing human existence, the ever-present choice between blessing and curse. 

No doubt. But the verse vacillates between singular and plural. The pronoun “you” in “See, I give you” is plural; but the imperative “See” is singular. Ibn Ezra explains, “God speaks to everyone personally.” 

So God tells each of us, personally, “See what I give you, not just once but regularly.” What regular gift could that be?

Read the verse again — remembering that the text is unpunctuated, and we get to decide where punctuation goes — with a colon halfway through, and all becomes clear: “See, I give you today: a blessing and a curse.” What God gives us, regularly, is every new “today.” And what complicates life is the reality that any single “today” can be both blessing and curse, not just fun and games but suffering and anxiety as well.

TV sitcoms would have composed a Torah that says, “See I give you today: pure blessing,” followed by instructions to choose that blessing by buying the right mouthwash and owning the right car. God’s Torah corrects that image: First, the choices that matter have nothing to do with what we buy or own. Second, our “todays” are likely not to be pure bliss, and we are equally likely not to be able to do much about it. 

When the High Holy Days come, watch for a prayer — aptly called “Hayom,” “Today” — that reminds us of the gift of each “today.” “Today, strengthen us,” it says. “Today, sustain us.” Only “today” on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur? No. We ask for strength and sustenance for every “today” in the year ahead. 

We can learn to take one “today” at a time, living through the loneliness, tears, and troubles that are our curse, and living for the friendships, love, and laughter that are our blessing. “Have a good day” is the hope that no matter which of the two predominates, we will find it good.

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