It never ceases to amaze me and my colleagues how the Torah portions every week speak to the daily life experiences of us all. Re’eih is no exception. This week’s portion, which begins in Deuteronomy 11:26 covers a lot of ground. Much of the portion focuses on issues related to the Sanctuary, sacrifices and ritual laws. The beginning of the portion, however, is where we look now, and where, I feel, so many colleagues will also focus on this Shabbat. In 11:26-28 we read “See, I have set before you blessing and curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of God that I command this day, and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of God, but turn away from the path that I command you this day and follow other gods whom you have not known.” So many meanings!
The word “re’eih” is a singular construction and “you” is rendered in Hebrew “lifneichem”, a plural. As happens in other construction and translations, we are reminded, as commentators have written, that each individual should feel a sense of responsibility for the many. This is a basic idea of Judaism which says that we are not alone nor can we function alone, that we are inter-dependant as a society. As we get older, the value on this need for connection becomes more real and powerful. What we choose to do and, as we see every day, say. does impact others and impacts the choices we make. In his “Living Each Week”, Rabbi Abraham Twerski writes on this passage: “Too often people think of themselves as islands, believing that whatever they do in their personal lives has no bearing on others and should be no one else’s concern. Moses’s message is that this is not so. What an individual does can be either a blessing or a curse for the multitude. (p. 400)
As we reflect on our own life experiences and try to pass this wisdom on to the next generations we can also look at another word from the portion. “Anochi” means “I”. Again, it is Moses speaking as in “I set before you”. The “I” of “Anochi” can refer to our own ego. How often have we spoken with our own children about people whose world view revolves only around their own sense of “anochi”? That ego can also be used for blessing or curse, as we so often see and, for many, have experienced. Perhaps this can been seen in the difference between a sense of self-confidence or self-esteem and vanity. The vain person, the person whose “anochi” or sense of self or ego sees the need to have everything related to his or her needs is the person who we guard against. This is the person who often cannot see beyond the self and thus, often chooses decisions that only relate to him or her. perhaps this portion is again reminding us that we cannot exist if we think only of our self, that we are, in the end, inter-connected and that isolation, self centeredness and vanity will yield only curse and division. Which approach do we wish to leave to our children and grandchildren; the curse of vanity or the blessing of an interactive cooperative community?
Rabbi Richard F Address