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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This week's opening verse reminds me of an old song titled "What a Difference a Day Makes." "See," we read, "I give you a blessing and a curse." For the Israelites, as for us, that day changed our lives: We learned to choose blessing as our lot .… The verb in "I give you" ought to read in the past tense, "I gave." The Torah already has been given, after all; Moses is just recapitulating its contents here. But tradition insists that we read it as "I give." This week's blessing is not about some historical fact that happened once and for all; it is about ongoing human existence. Apparently, we have an ever-present gift from God, an ever-present choice, perhaps, between blessing and curse. (Lawrence Hoffman, "Mixed Blessings: What a Difference Today Makes" in "Sabbath Week," The Jewish Week)

They are virtually twins, two average peaks in a land where Himalayan ecstasies are not part of the landscape. Average mountains, average children. However, the peak of blessing, Mount Gerizim, is nearer the sun, moist and fruitful; the peak of curse, Mount Ebal, is lean, arid, and dry. Ramban adds a mystical dimension: Of the two mountains, Gerizim is to the south, symbolizing divine love; Ebal is to the north, symbolizing strict justice and law. Parents must give their children love and limits, concerns and curtailments. When push comes to shove, the ultimate choice in favor of blessing will depend upon the strength of the portion of love. (Shlomo Riskin, "The Mountain of Love" in "Sabbath Week," The Jewish Week)

Your Guide

Rabbi Artson states that Judaism is not based on "the personal preference of each individual Jew." When should we put the good of the community above our own personal preference?

Pointing out the potential of one's actions was Moses' role and remains the role of rabbis today. How much influence do you think present-day rabbis have on the lives of those they lead?

Is it truly a blessing, as Rabbi Hoffman says, for us to be able to choose between blessing and curse? Would you rather have someone choose for you?

What is your response to Rabbi Riskin's metaphor about the two mountains?

D'var Torah

Because I am primarily a "visual learner," I am attracted to the first word of this portion, Re'eh. I remember someone's phone number better if I have visualized it on a list; I read from the Torah better if I can picture the vowels that were in the Tikkun [the book which is used to learn the cantillation of a Torah portion]; and I recall experiences better if I can replay them in my head as if they were on a VCR in my brain.

It seems to me that our ancestors who went out of Egypt were also visual learners. They had lived in a country that was a "feast for the eyes" (although they weren't able to partake of that feast), and this image stayed in their memories. Consider that they had seen big buildings everywhere, that the Egyptians had looked different than they did, that the Ten Plagues had been incredible sights, and that the successful crossing of the Sea of Reeds and the drowning of the Egyptians came under the category of "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes!"

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Rabbi Stephen Karol

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