Re’eh is a wonderous portion as it includes a wide range of commands, emotions, and feelings. It is important to remember that classical Biblical thoughts places the book of Deuteronomy in the 7th century BCE, as the keystone of the hoped-for religious reformation of King Josiah. Thus, the strong comments on idolatry and false prophets and more which were in keeping with Josiah’s attempt to purge foreign influences from the cult. At the heart of the portion, as many commentators have suggested, is the message of choice.
This begins at the outset of the passage. “See I have set before you this day a blessing and a curse” (11:26). There follows the typical Deuteronomic formula of, if you follow my commandments then blessing, and if you do not, a curse. Commentators have noticed that the first word of the portion, re’eh, is in the singular and the “to you” is written in plural form. We see this juxtaposition of singular and plural in other places, most notably we will see it on Yom Kippur in the Viddui section. One of the messages of tradition is this play between each person individually hearing this call and understanding that how we choose to react to the call impacts a community. Yes, choices, like elections, have consequences. As Rabbi Abraham Twerski (z’l) noted in his “Living Each Week”, the message that Moses was speaking here was that “What an individual does can be either a blessing or a curse for the multitude”, (p.400)
Think back on the choices we all have made in our lives. There may have been times when we were sure that the choice was just ours, that it impacted no one else. Maybe that was so, in rare cases. But, as we got older and the choices became more nuanced, it was clear that we were not an isolated entity, not an island unto our own self, but connected in so many ways to others and thus, that choice has impact. So too the choices we face now as we age. Life choices that involve so many people, on so many levels. We hope to make choices that invoke and exemplify blessing and it is often a challenge to make complex choices, often involving loved ones, our own self, and our family. This portion serves as another guide to us who live in such a complex world, filled with anxiety on so many levels. Our choices can seem to be so confusing, yet choices need to be made and tradition gives us the spiritual foundation to make them for life and for blessing.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.