One particular theme that stands out in this week’s Parsha is that Hashem gives us commandments as both a blessing and a curse. He lays out the laws and commandments and tells us there will be consequences for not following them. Living in this era we already know that we can not have lawlessness, but in Biblical times Hashem needed to give out the laws. The laws and commandments are specified in this Parsha concerning worship, holidays, kashruth and even tzedakah – and man is given the choice to either fulfill or abandon the commandments – the choice between good and evil – free will.
It’s simple. The blessing will come when the commandments are fulfilled. The curse will only follow when the commandments are abandoned.
At one point in the Parsha man is directed to be strong and not drink the blood of an animal. Sounds gruesome to us, but common practice at that time was to eat the meat and also drink the blood. Hashem knew this was tempting, because it was the norm and so he directed man to be strong in order to abstain from the norm. Even though he specified being strong with this one particular commandment, man is meant to be strong with all the commandments, not just this one. Hashem also prescribed specific places for worship and sacrifice, which would be in Jerusalem. Since we no longer have the Temple in Jerusalem and we’re spread out, we have erected Temples all over so that Jews can have places in which to worship.
The name of this Parsha is Re’eh. It means see. Hashem commands us using the word Re’eh, see, rather than shema, listen, which is normally used. The visual has more of an impact than the auditory. The visual remains in your memory far, far longer than what is merely heard.
See rather than listen. Hashem wants us to see the commandments in order to remember them. Additionally, it is one thing to feel that you believe in Hashem and another to actually practice the belief. In this Parsha the laws of how to observe the pilgrimage holidays are spelled out, and in the temple where you should go to ‘see and be seen’.
When giving the laws and commandments Hashem is acting as a parent and dealing with people, his children, who have free will. He gave the Israelites the rules and allowed them to grow and make their own decisions as to whether or not they will follow his direction. If not, there are consequences. Just as a parent teaches and directs his or her child. If the child obeys, there are rewards, and, if not, there are consequences. It is only when we do not teach our children that we have not given them the tools with which they can make educated, well thought out decisions. Children naturally test their parents to see what will happen, just as the Israelites continued to test Hashem. Hashem shows us that giving directions and setting parameters is necessary for proper growth and well-being.
Many parents are too quick to give children the freedom to make choices that they are too young to make. Just as the Israelites made the choice to make an idol of a golden calf shortly after leaving Egypt. After all, they just came from living in a land where making and worshipping idols was practiced and revered. This is what they saw as the norm. They were newly freed and new to making choices. In Egypt they didn’t have the freedom to make choices.
In a sense they were as young children learning which path to take. Which choices were good and which were evil. Guidance is important and there is a natural time for growth and learning. It takes a long time to become a responsible adult and the child must be directed and nurtured until ready to go out on his or her own. When this is done with care and love then we can feel that the child will be better equipped to make the better choices. We are shown here that man has the capacity to do good or evil. He has been granted free choice and the autonomy to choose between good and evil. Our deeds are not completely predetermined and we must not rely on the premise that evil was done only because one is made a certain way. If we make the right choice we are awarded blessing and if not then we will see the consequence.
However, as adults we must make sure we follow the rules we are setting for our children. If not, and they only hear the rules – not see them being practiced – they will not have a lasting example to follow. Children need to see the rules being practiced in order for them to make an indelible impression and give them something to follow. The Israelites who saw idol worship practiced what they saw. It was when Hashem punished them for it, that they saw the consequence and knew it was wrong.
We must teach and we must then let go just as Hashem did when he guided the Israelites to the Jordan to cross into the Promised Land. He taught them, and let them go forth to become the nation they would choose. We must show children that we actively practice Judaism – not just send them to Hebrew school and tell them they’re Jewish. They need to see religion as a living entity. Additionally, religion doesn’t take a vacation in the summer – they need to see religion being practiced year round. Again seeing is the key.
We are given all these laws and commandments which made us unique at that time and now as well. Without these differences we would be just like all others and have no reason to be special – to be who we are.
Idol worshippers of long ago have perished, civilizations have risen and perished, empires have risen and perished or been diminished, and, yet, through it all, Judaism survives.
Jewish exceptionalism is not applauded by the outside world, but we must be who we are, regardless. It is what Jews do. We should not look to be normal by international standards.
Eretz Yisrael has its own set of standards. Again, the blessing and the curse.
However, by being so special we are given the reason to thrive and the realization that we need Eretz Yisrael to continue to survive and thrive. Am Yisrael Chai!!!
– Marilyn Morgenlander