Blog Re’eh Av 25 5780 בלוג רְאֵה, כ”ה אב תש”פ

This parashah Re’eh (See) begins with a blessing (brachah)בְּרָכָה and a curse (klalah) קְלָלָה. Moshe was warning (tokhechah – תוכחה) his people, for their own good, that if they obeyed the principles that the Bore Olam handed him at Mount Sinai, things would go well for them; if they disobeyed, things would go badly in their lives as a direct consequence. In the same way, we as parents set boundaries for our children, not to control them but to protect them from harm. However, we often blame the Creator for our suffering, wondering why He is punishing us instead of understanding that He gave us free will and that we have to take responsibility for our behavior. Our choices affect not only our own lives but those around us both now and for future generations. The word Re’eh רְאֵה is singular but is followed by lefaneichem לִפְנֵיכֶם, a plural noun which indicates that it begins with the individual and extends out into the community.

In the last two parashot, Moshe dealt with the mitzvot (the first three commandments) and in this one, he will begin to develop the chukkim, the ordinances, (the fourth and fifth principles) and the mishpatim, the statutes (the last five). The chukkim do not provide us with a logical explanation but are simply to be obeyed; they concern the Shabbat and honoring father and mother. These are followed by the mishpatim which concern our responsibility toward our neighbor. This parashah also outlined the foods which can and cannot be eaten, known as the kashrut laws today, although the word kosher does not appear anywhere in the Torah. It also emphasizes that we are to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves – the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, basically the poor. Here Moshe told the people that the Creator wanted them to do everything with joy, to enjoy life in contrast with the ascetic manner of the very religious. Celebrating life is done in community, by sharing with each other, and not holding onto things for selfish reasons. Both giving and participating were especially important at the Shalosh Regalim, the three Pilgrim Festivals.

I would like to emphasize the title, Re’eh – be attentive, open your eyes, see what is around you. Deut. 13 warns us to not allow ourselves to be fooled when a false prophet rises up and leads us to a false god. We need to verify what he is saying and if it sounds too good to be true, beware! Not all that glitters is Gold! Today the world is being caught in a web of rumors and false reporting causing mass hysteria. The Creator gave us a brain and wants us to analyze facts before we believe everything that we see or hear. The meaning of idolatry is exchanging the true God for a false god or gods. For example, someone asked me, “how can I be forgiven for my sins if someone else doesn’t pay for them?” How convenient it is to believe that, but what about personal responsibility? Our great Rabbi Yeshua said, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding.” (from Matthew 13, quoting Jeremiah and Isaiah).

There is a saying “out of sight, out of mind”. It is easy to ignore the consequences of our behavior. Moshe was warning the younger generation that they needed to be strong enough to resist the captivating ways of the people living in the land they were about to conquer. They needed to have a strong foundation upon which they could rely when temptation would come along. There is nothing stronger than a personal relationship with the Creator. Going to your worship center of choice once a week doesn’t cut it. It is not about what we say but what we do, how we serve Him. The Creator doesn’t need anything from us, but the Scriptures are filled with verses about helping those who are less fortunate than we are. Serving others is serving our Creator.

The Israelites were about to take possession of the Promised Land. What do we do when we move to a new home? We clean every nook and cranny to make sure that there is no dirt left from the people who lived there before us, especially the bathrooms! The Israelites needed to remove anything that could contaminate them from the Canaanite culture. The Creator said, “do not imitate their ways!” Today we have become imitators instead of keeping our own identity. We have forgotten who we are. When we remain silent because we don’t want to be singled out for our values, we are as guilty as those who openly imitate the ways of the world. This portion reminds us not to exchange the true God for an imitation simply because it is popular. Whether we want it or not, if we have a true relationship with the Creator, we see life differently, our values are different. That can be costly. We will be judged and called names. The Creator presented us with the Ten Principles (also known as the ‘Ten Commandments’) and the subsequent blessings and curses. It is up to us to keep them. How many religions teach us not to worry; we can do good works to balance the bad things we do, or we can purchase indulgences to pay our way out of sin. Is the Creator so naïve that we can buy Him?

How can we apply this to our lives today? We need to start with ourselves. If I am not right with myself, I cannot be right with anyone else. If I cannot love myself, how can I love my neighbor. We need to get back to basics. Joni Eriksen-Tada had to come to terms with her new state as a quadriplegic. She made it her life’s ambition to get out of herself and to serve others. This brought her deep fulfillment and joy in her life. Are we ready to examine our relationship with the Creator, to be honest with ourselves so that we can serve others? We place limits upon our capabilities when we don’t want to be taken out of our comfort zones. The only time we grow is when our comfort zones are challenged. It is time to get uncomfortable, to get busy with serving the Creator by serving each other. The parashah ends with tithing, giving. The Creator constantly speaks about this area because He knows that it is not comfortable. This parashah is about living our lives with joy, in relationship with the Creator and in service to one another. That will keep us from getting bored as well as staying away from idolatry.