R’eh is a powerful portion. It wastes no time in reminding us that life will present us with choices between good and evil and that blessings will flow if we follow God’s Commandments. If not, curses. This is a powerful theme in Deuteronomy. We will meet it again in stark reality in Nitzvaim and again on Yom Kippur.
This portion, speaks to several issues but a major theme is that if idolatry. This is , of course, has been an on-going concern in much of Torah. The Israelites seem to have had the tendancy to “stray” from the statues and ordinances that Moses focused on. Indeed, Deuteronomy spends much time in Moses’s discourses in which he is free to outline again the fact that the people so often have deviated from the true path of Torah. The history of Deuteronomy was specific in this context as part of the Josianic revolution of 7th centry BCE and the attempt to reform the cult. Idolotry was a major issue, as a reading of so many of the Prophetic books will show.
But what of us? We are at a stage in our own lives where so many reflect. This week (Aug..9) we come to the month of Elul, the month prior to the High Holidays when we are called to begin our return to the sacred. In reality, it is a month where we prepare our souls for the power of Rosh Hoshonnah and Yom Kippur. So the tradition asks us to consider what idols we have worshiped? This is a time in so many of our lives when we re-evaluate and reconsider where we have come from and what were our priotities and what may our priorities be now. What did we worship as we traveled the life stages of our own journey? And I mean worshiped in its truest sense. Did we try to be something other than our true self? Was fame or power or control our God? Did we lose focus on our own relationships? Do we still worship some of those same gods now?
Idolotry is not just a province of Biblical times. Indeed, modern false gods abound and often promse the same things as those in Torah. They may demand total loyalty, demand sacrifice of time, money and soul. But for what? The promised blessing will eventually become the promised curse. The first word of the portion is, itself, a challenge. R’eh. “see”, as if to say to us, pay attention, look up and see what really is important in life. Failing to “see” invites a life of falsehood and misdirection. Again, the choice is ours!
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.