Open Your Eyes and See

If you establish a Jewish spiritual discipline for yourself, you will not be led astray.

Commentary on Parashat Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17

See. Re’eh. Open your eyes. Take a good, hard look at the world around you. Be clear about what you see and what needs to be done and what you need to do. That is what is behind the opening lines of this week’s Torah portion.

“You can therefore see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will come if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I am prescribing you today.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-27)

The blessing does not come as a reward for observing the commandments. The blessing emerges out of the observance itself.

While this portion addresses numerous issues, it is primarily focused on two important ingredients in Jewish life: Jewish dietary laws and the observance of the pilgrimage festivals. Some may, therefore, read this portion simply as the laws and regulations of these two pivotal areas of Jewish religious life. Just another group of complicated things to follow–more barriers for entering the Jewish community.

For me, however, the principles articulated in this portion are more about establishing a spiritual discipline for living. It also provides us with the parameters that prevent us from worshiping other gods, the real fear of the Bible and of this portion–which forms its remainder. If you observe the dietary laws and celebrate the festivals that have shaped the Jewish psyche (read: if you have established a Jewish spiritual discipline for yourself), then you will not be led astray.

This is important to note, especially given the fear of people in the community who believe that once folks intermarry, then they are lost to the Jewish community. And it is why the Bible is so strong in its insistence that we root out those who might cause us to go astray. It doesn’t matter, says the text, of the close relationship of this individual– determined to be the one to be rooted out–with you or your family.

As we can see from the text, the one to be rooted out is the one that is led astray (which is defined in contrast to those who observe the dietary laws and celebrate the festivals, which I read as developing a Jewish spiritual discipline for oneself). It isn’t that building a strong Jewish identity will “prevent” intermarriage as some contemporaries would like to claim. Rather, building a strong Jewish identity will ensure that a Jewish family emerges–with the raising of Jewish children — even within the context of an intermarriage. If you open up your eyes, re’eh, you can see the possibility that surrounds you.

“If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, ‘Let us follow and worship another god’ — whom you have not experienced — even if the sign or portent that he named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the Lord your God is testing you to see whether you really love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. Follow none but the Lord your God, and revere none other; observe the commandments alone, and heed only God’s orders; worship none but God, and hold fast to God. As for that prophet or dream-diviner, he shall be put to death; for he urged disloyalty to the Lord your God–who freed you from the land of Egypt and who redeemed you from the house of bondage — to make you stray from the path that the Lord your God instructed you to follow. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:2-6).

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