Parashat Re'eh

Seeing Is Believing

Parashat Re'eh calls our attention to our ability to choose the directions of our lives.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • God places both blessing and curse before the Israelites. They are taught that blessing will come through the observance of God's laws (11:26–32).

  • Moses' third discourse includes laws about worship in a central place (12:1–28); injunctions against idolatry (12:29–13:19) and self-mutilation (14:1–2); dietary rules (14:3–21); and laws about tithes (14:22–25), debt remission (15:1–11), the release and treatment of Hebrew slaves (15:12–18), and firstlings (15:19–23).

  • Moses reviews the correct sacrifices to be offered during the Pilgrim Festivals--Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot.

Focal Point

See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of Adonai your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of Adonai your God but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced. When Adonai your God brings you into the land that you are about to invade and occupy, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal. Both are on the other side of the Jordan, beyond the west road that is in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah near Gilgal by the terebinths of Moreh. (Deuteronomy 11:26–30)

Your Guide

Why does the first sentence of this portion begin with the imperative form of the verb "see?"

Although the alternatives between blessing and curse in Deuteronomy 11:27–28 are clear, do the people really have the freedom to choose between them without fearing that they are offending God?

Is the power of positive thinking at work in verse 29, which says, "When [italics added] Adonai your God brings you into the land that you are about to invade and occupy" rather than "If God brings you…?"

Is verse 30 merely an editor's note that was added later, or is the mentioning of the "terebinths of Moreh," where God appeared to Abram in Genesis 12:7, meant to have special significance for the people, who are about to enter Canaan?

By the Way…

The Rabbis of the Talmud note that the Hebrew grammar in this phrase [Deuteronomy 11:26] is surprising. It begins with the singular and ends with the plural! "What lesson," they ask, "is buried in that awkward formation?" According to our Sages, we learn from the singular Re'eh ("See") that the mitzvot are given to the entire people--to all Jews as a group. The contours of our religion are not the personal preference of each individual Jew. Yet at the same time, the phrase ends with lifneichem ("before you [all]"), a plural construct, to remind us that each individual must decide whether or not to commit heart, mind, and soul to cultivating our b'rit ("covenant") with God. (Bradley Shavit Artson, Parashat Re'eh, August 13, 2001, in "Today's Torah," Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies)

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Rabbi Stephen Karol

Stephen Karol is the rabbi of Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, N.Y.