This week’s portion covers a lot of ground. We see in chapter 12 the call for centralized worship which reflects King Josiah’s attempt at his religious reformation. We see a warning against false prophets (13), rules governing how we eat, act in society (14) and social justice issues (15) with some emphasis on treating the needy and poor. Finally, we see a repetition on some of the sacred calendar (16). There is much to unpack in this portion, but let’s return to something that speaks to our world and to each of us.
Re’eh reminds us of the reality of choice, that life is made up of choices and the implications of those choices can bring about blessing or curse. Yes, the context of the portion reflects that the key to those choices is following God’s commands. But we can also, as we usually do, look to see how these verses speak to us in our life stage, for we are always reminded that as we age, the texts “speak” to us differently and we “hear” them differently. Commentators note that the portion begins re’eh “see”. The word is singular, yet the context, Moses speaking to the Israelites, is plural. We are reminded that tradition speaks to each one of us in our own way. That we are responsible for our actions. Indeed, in 12:8 we are reminded that “You shall not act as we act now here, where every person (man) does as they please”. Being part of society means that it is not about “me”, but about “us”, and that by making choices that are solely based on my self-interest, we take away from society. This is part of what we sometimes call a “mature spirituality” as distinct from a “pediatric” spirituality that focuses only on the I.
This Torah portion, with this caution to each of us as to how we act in society, also calls on us to be mindful of the curses that are all around us, curses often brought about by modern false prophets. Creating a spirituality for mature adults does not mean we become placid in our world awareness. “On the contrary, only open-eyed awareness of the evil that mars human nature is what makes faith in its latent goodness and greatness necessary”. (A Year With Mordecai Kaplan. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben. P. 187) This desire to create a mature faith is being challenged now by the curse of book banning, threats to free speech, and a frightening rise in anti-Semitism. We need Kaplan’s “open-eyed awareness” to continue to allow us to make choices that bring about personal and social blessing…now, perhaps, more than ever in our lifetime.
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.