Parshah Summary – P’shat
Parshat Re’eh, which means “see,” opens with Moses’ stark teaching to the Children of Israel, that before them is blessing and curse – choose blessing! He then reminds them of the ceremony they must perform when they enter the land, that the litany of blessings promised to them if they follow the Torah should be proclaimed publicly on Mount Gerizim, and the curses for not following the Torah on Mount Ebal. Instructions are then given for establishing a Temple in “the place that Hashem will choose,” and that the Temple should be the only place that offerings are brought. And while it is permitted to slaughter animals anywhere for meat, the blood (which is poured upon the altar when animals are offered in the Temple), may not be eaten. The people are then warned against false prophets, and the identifying signs for kosher animals and fish, along with the list of non-kosher birds (first given in Leviticus 11), are repeated.
Moses then reminds the Israelites that they must tithe a tenth of their produce, and that this tithe must be eaten in Jerusalem, or else exchanged for money with which food is purchased and eaten there. In certain years this tithe is instead given to the poor. (Today the practice is to self-tithe a tenth of our livelihood for the poor.) Firstborn cattle and sheep, however, are to be offered in the Temple, and eaten only by the kohanim (priests). Moses then reviews the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, the obligation to lift up anyone in the community who becomes needy with a gift or a loan. Furthermore, on the Sabbatical year (occurring seven years), all loans are forgiven, and all indentured servants are set free after six years of service. The parshah concludes with the laws of the three pilgrimage festivals – Pesakh (Passover), Shavuot and Sukkot – when everyone is to make the journey to Jerusalem and bring their offerings …
Torah of Awakening: Jewish Meditation Teaching
רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃
אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃ וְהַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְסַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לָלֶ֗כֶת אַחֲרֵ֛י אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם׃
“See – I place before you today blessing and curse! Blessing, if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your God that I command you today; and curse, if you do not listen the commandments of Hashem your God, but turn away from the path that I command you today and go after other gods, whom you have not known…”
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26, Parshat Re’eh
Rabbi Yitzhak of Vorki told this story: “Once, when I was on the road with my holy teacher Rabbi David of Lelov, and stopped over in a town far from our home, a woman suddenly fell upon him in the street and began to beat him. She thought he was her husband who had abandoned her many years ago. After a few moments she saw her error and burst into tears. ‘Do not cry,’ Rabbi David said to her, ‘You were not striking me, but your husband.’ And he added in a low tone, ‘How often we cannot see the truth of what is right in front of us!’”
What is the truth of what is right in front of us?
רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה See, I set before you today blessing and curse… “Blessing” and “curse” are constant possibilities, moment to moment – the choice of how we receive this moment is ours. Our tendency is to assume that the “unpleasant” is a curse and the “pleasant” is a blessing, and we put our intention toward the maximizing of our preference and the diminishing of that which we judge as bad. But while we certainly must work toward and maintain that which is desirable, just as important is the question of how we receive what is. This moment has already become; whether we receive it as a “blessing” or a “curse” is our ever-present spiritual task:
אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ ... אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם – The Blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot that I command you today… That is, if we consciously receive whatever the moment brings, be it pleasant or unpleasant, receiving it literally as mitzvah, as commandment, and surrendering to the truth of our actual experience, then we can begin to notice: Beyond the sorrow and joy, there is a blessedness that comes from simple openness to the moment; a blessedness which is inherent within awareness itself, inherent within knowing ourselves as this blessed awareness. Then, even the “curses” are like blessings, because through our awareness of the curses, we can come to know ourselves as the blessedness.
וְהַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ – And curse, if you do not listen… That is, if we don’t receive the present moment just as it is, regardless of whether we like or not, we forfeit the deeper blessedness which is our birthright and our nature.
וְסַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּוֹם – and turn away from the path that I command you today… The commanded path is this path, before us right now – this is it – if we would turn toward it rather than resist it.
לָלֶ֗כֶת אַחֲרֵ֛י אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם – and run after other gods, whom you have not known...
When we turn away from the present moment, projecting our own concerns upon it like the woman in the story, we sacrifice the Real for the imaginary, worshiping idols of our own thoughts, and ignoring the Reality before us. Then, even “good” things can be like curses – a friendly stranger becomes a guilty abandoning husband – a missed meeting with Reality, a missed encounter with the Divine.
So: embrace life as it is: pleasure and pain, sweetness and bitterness, fullness and loss, and uncover the deeper blessedness of Being, which is not separate from the awareness that you are…
וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֞ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ
And you shall rejoice before Reality, your own inner Divinity…
- Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:11
Read past teachings on Re'eh HERE.
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