Thoughts on Parashat “Re’eh” | by Rabbit Lana Zilberman Soloway
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; The curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other Gods, which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11, 26-28)
These are the opening words of Parashat “Re’eh”. The Parasha that reveals many of the commandments that our people are obligated to follow when we enter the land of Israel. These include: destroying idolatry and concentrating God’s work in one place, the laws of Kashrut, the mitzvah of giving away ten percent, the commandment of holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, and more.
Some of the commandments were already mentioned earlier, during the wilderness generation. Others are new, only announced now, as we prepare to enter the land. There are fifty five commandments in total, listed one by one, after the opening verse, which has received endless interpretations: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse”.
The Torah does not explain exactly what blessing we will receive if we will follow God’s will, nor what would be the curse, in case we do not do what God wants from us. Is it reinforcing the idea of reward and punishment in its classic interpretation – that the righteous get all the good and evil gets all the bad, or is there more to it?
In Midrash Devarim Rabbah 4, 2, we read:
“Rabbi Levi said: To what is this similar? To a servant whom his master told, ‘Here is a golden neck-chain for you, and if not, here are iron chains.’ Thus, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘If you do my will, here are the good and the blessing (the golden chain), and if not, here is the curse (the iron chains)’, ‘See, I have set before you today blessing and curse.'”
This story is meant to remind us that there is always a choice.
The blessing is promised to us, if we hear. The Curse is also promised to us, but only if we won’t hear.
What does God want us to hear? This question doesn’t have a clear answer, therefore it is open for vast interpretation.
I would like to suggest that the blessing and the curse that ought to be given to us as we prepare to enter the land of Israel are dependent on two senses and not just one. The hearing sense and the sight sense. After all, the opening word of this Parasha is “Re’eh” = See. God commands us to see.
To see all the people that ever lived in this land from the beginning of times, those who lived here when we entered the land almost thirty five hundred years ago, and those who live here nowadays.
To see all the transparent people who live among us, whose basic rights are being taken away from them on an everyday basis.
To see the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
To see the refugees, the asylum seekers, the women, the LGBTQ, the poor, the handicapped.
To see all who are different from us, one way or the other, and truly hear them.
To hear the plea of the Sub-Laban family that was expelled from their home by “Ateret Cohanim” a few weeks ago without any just reason, and to hear hundreds of other Palestinian families in East Jerusalem that are waiting to be expelled from their home or for their home to be demolished.
To hear the Palestinian farmers that are suffering daily violence from West Bank settlers.
To hear the cry of the Arab society in Israel that can no longer handle the terrible domestic and criminal violence on their own.
To hear all those that cannot keep their heads above the water, due the unbearably expensive cost of living.
To hear all those who go out to the street to fight for democracy.
To hear and to see every single person that makes up the mosaic of the entire Israeli society, from the Jordan river to the sea.
Such actions will give us a blessing. A blessing of life, a blessing of love, a blessing of partnership, a blessing of friendship, a blessing of being together.
If we do not hear and see, the results will be fateful. We’ve been to a place where we didn’t see or hear each other. The result of such actions is known in advance and none of us surely wants to get there.
To see and to hear. To be on the blessed side and not on the cursed side.
The “Sfath Emeth”, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, teaches about Parashat “Re’eh” in the context of Covenant (Brit): the Covenant between humans and God. Covenant is not only given to humans. It is a mutual relationship. The opening word: “Re’eh” (See), indicates the demand of humans to be an active side of the covenant, in a place of choice. Constant choice between good and evil.
When a person sins, he chooses the path of evil, in which case the right of choosing is taken from him, supposedly. However, God, in his kindness, renews the possibility of choosing every single day, therefore humans receive their freedom to choose every single day. Just as “God creates the world anew, every single day”, and in each new creation there is a new blessing, so every single day presents a possibility for a new choice.
This upcoming Shabbat is a special one. We will be blessing the month of Elul, which will commence next week. It’s the time when we start preparing for the High Holidays, by blowing the Shofar, by looking deep into ourselves. We prepare for the month of Tishrei, for a new Jewish year.
It’s not a coincidence that Parshat “Re’eh” is read on the same Shabbat we bless the month of Elul. During this month, especially, as we search for the closeness of God, we do our best to serve God and aspire to our highest loyalty in getting closer to our father in heaven. During the month of Elul, we have a special opportunity to strengthen our part of the covenant.
Ani Ledodi VeDodi Li (=Elul).
To choose good. To hear and to see.
As we enter the month of Elul, I wish all of us to open our eyes and ears as wide as possible, in order to become a blessing.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.
Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway is one of the Rabbis of Congregation
“Or Ami” in Los Angeles, and an active member of “Rabbis for Human Rights”.
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