Re'eh - See
For this week's teaching, I will be focusing on the first aliyah of the the Torah portion. This parasha begins with a familiar refrain that we will hear repeated throughout the book of D'varim; blessings and curses. But first, let's take a look at what YHVH has Moshe saying to the people.
The parasha starts with the name of this portion, re'eh. Re'eh, like most Hebrew words can be translated multiple ways. The most common is as see or behold. However, it can also mean learn about or understand. I believe in this instance, the meaning is a combination of these. Like the word sh'ma means more than just hear, but hear and do, re'eh means more than just see. It means to see or perceive and understand. Learn the meaning of what is being said and take it to heart. It has both a physical and spiritual component that must be made a part of our very being.
Now let's look at the first line of the Torah portion, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse...". The first word is singular; it is speaking directly to each individual. Moshe is saying "I am speaking to you personally." The word used for before you, lifneikhem, is plural. In this case, Moshe is referring to the whole nation of Israel. Why the difference? This is Moshe's way of reminding us that each individual has a responsibility to protect the whole. In essence, we can translate this opening (using myself as an example) as "See and understand, Robbie, I am setting before the whole people of Israel a blessing and a curse; you, Robbie, will choose for yourself which to receive as well as being a part of ensuring one or the other for this nation." As you can see, it's much more concise in the Hebrew. Those listening to this in the desert beside the Jordan River knew exactly what Moshe was saying.
The blessing and the curse that Moshe pronounced are two sides of the same requirement. As he states, we receive the blessing if we obey the mitzvot (commandments) of YHVH, and the curse if we do not listen and obey. He continues on to define disobedience as to "turn aside from the way I am ordering you today and follow other gods that you have not known". This last can also be translated as "gods that have not proven themselves to you". This sets them apart from YHVH who has proven Himself repeatedly throughout the last 40 years.
Moshe next commands the people to put the blessing on Mount G'rizim and the curse on Mount 'Eival once we enter the land. Both of these mountains are on the West side of the Jordan, inside the Promised Land. This is a reminder to us that the blessings and curses are a choice for only those who choose to accept the covenant of the land offered to His people. Anyone choosing to remain outside the land, choosing not to accept His covenant, is free from making a choice of accepting the blessing or the curse. This also reminds us that there is a responsibility involved in making the choice. We must take the land before we can get the blessing.
Moshe now lists some of the things we must do upon entering the land. We must destroy all the places where other nations served their gods; on high mountains, on hills, or under a leafy tree. We must break down their altars and smash their standing-stones to pieces. We must burn up their sacred poles and cut down carved images of their gods. We must exterminate their name from that place. Whose names must we exterminate? The gods of the nations. Not only are we to avoid following their gods, we must not even try to learn their ways of worshiping. Many people today will try to use scholarship or understanding of other cultures to justify learning other ways of worship. Even in many seminaries, students are encouraged to learn the ways of others. This is supposed to make us more tolerant and accepting of other religions and beliefs. Unfortunately that also makes us more tolerant and accepting of other religions and beliefs. Accepting that others have a belief is not the same as accepting those beliefs. Too many times, however, our people have blended those two types of acceptance. This is the reason for this command to avoid learning their ways. YHVH knew and still knows our hearts and our weaknesses.
As we study this Torah portion, we must not only see the words. We must understand and accept into our hearts the commands we were given. We must then choose, with open hearts and minds, whether to obey or not; whether to receive the blessings or the curse. May we always choose Mount G'rizim and stay away from Mount 'Eival.