Parshat Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
This week is a jam-packed portion. It begins with a choice: “I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God…; the curse if you do not … and you follow other gods.” The portion continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the other religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary’s face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi. One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word. The source of the Chosen People concept is brought this week: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation … ” (Deut. 14:1-2). We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege — to act morally and to be a “light unto the nations.” The portion then gives instructions regarding: permitted and forbidden foods, the Second Tithe, remissions of loans every 7 years, treatment of those in need (to be warm-hearted and open-handed), a Jewish bondsman, the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot).
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Dvar Torah The Torah uses some mighty strong language this week that really needs some understanding:
“See I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you will listen to the commandments of the Almighty which I am commanding you this day. And the curse, if you do not listen to the Almighty’s commandments” (Deut. 11:26-28).
On top of this, the Sforno, a renowned 15th century Italian commentator, adds “There is no middle way. If a person follows the Torah, his life will be a blessed life. If a person fails to live by the commandments, he will live a cursed life.” This seems to be a rather extreme statement. However, if we understand that life is either purposeful and meaningful or not, then we can understand that a life of meaning is a blessed life. And a life without meaning is a life devoid of satisfaction and imbued with a sense that nothing makes a difference when life is over anyway (and what could be a greater curse than that?). Understanding that there is a God Who created the world, sustains it and supervises it — gives life intrinsic meaning. One can always create a sense of meaning in a diversion — acquiring wealth, following baseball or even in something as noble as helping others. However, unless there is a God and there are absolute responsibilities and values, then there is no inherent meaning to life. It gnaws at one’s psyche. A person needs to have purpose in life, to know that life is meaningful. To be aware of the Creator and to fulfill His will enables a person to experience the greatest of blessings in this world. Each day will be an exciting adventure full of the joy of doing the Almighty’s will. The choice is yours to make. Choose life!