Parashat Re’eh

By Irwin Huberman

During periods of war and conflict, it is difficult to get
up every day with a feeling of hope and optimism. On
a daily basis, the Biblical commandment to ‘love your
neighbour as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18) is put to
the ultimate test.

Rather than lean on values of compassion and loving
kindness which form the basis of Judaism, we are
pulled towards suspicion, fear and

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Re’eh,
recognizes this natural conflict, and wastes no time
outlining the dilemma. God speaking through Moses
states in the beginning, ‘See, this day I set before
you blessing and curse.’ (Deut. 11:26) The
Torah clearly lays out the choices and ultimately
teaches us that in order to survive we must actively
choose life over death, and blessings over curses.

It is not easy. Every day, we are pulled by forces of
pessimism which encourage us to give up hope, and
to drop our commitment towards Tiqqun Olam,
the healing or repair of the world.

In the days immediately following 9/11, Jews and
Christians prayed together amidst the ruins of the
World Trade Center. They stood arm in arm, as the
smoke of destruction billowed behind them. As
excruciating as it was, they chose life.

Jewish history is laced with attacks of hatred,
prejudice and oppression. Yet, we are taught that in
the face of the most cursed of circumstances, we
must dust ourselves off, stare down negativity and
carry on.< This week’s Parashah launches a series of
discourses from Moses prior to his death , which
forms the basis of Torah readings for the next five
weeks. We are lectured repeatedly on the
consequences of pursuing a mindset of negativity.
Classic Jewish tradition tells us that a life of following
God’s ways will lead to well-being, and a path of bad
behaviour will bring about misfortune.

Are we to believe that God operates within such a
simple environment of reward and punishment?
History clearly disproves it. Sometimes the most
righteous and gentle people have been sent to
slaughter, while oppressors live in luxury and

Yet, our tradition also tells us that blessings are not
just found in the bare bones of life and death.
Blessings come from inner peace, and a knowledge
that we are part of something greater.

Performing God’s commandments helps us maintain
an internal balance. A kind word to someone in
need, giving charity, gathering family and the needy
for Shabbat dinner, being discriminating about what
we eat, all provide us with a sense of belonging, and
peace of mind.

There is no better feeling than knowing that our life
means something, and that our actions help create
blessings for ourselves and others. Our tradition tells
us this is all part of God’s creative plan. Being part
of Judaism and performing mitzvot
(commandments) help us feel that we are a
worthwhile addition to God’s creation.

Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Isaac Meir Lau once said
that our traditional reading of the famous biblical
saying, Love your neighbor as Yourself. I am the
.’ (Leviticus 19:18) is

Rabbi Lau reinterpreted the phrasing to read,
V’Ahavta Lireicha . . . Kamocha Ani
. ‘Love your Neighbor, as you do, so will
God confer on you the consequences of that love.’
Indeed, we make our lives a blessing when we
respect and extend love to our neighbor.

These are indeed difficult times. With fresh daily
images of despair in both Israel and Lebanon
dominating the television news, and the words of
preachers of hatred, genocide and destruction
echoing in our ears, it is easy for many to gravitate
towards revenge and hatred. As difficult as it is,
sometimes with our teeth grinding, we must choose

We can rise every day with a feeling that we can
make a difference, or we can lapse into a feeling of
helplessness. Judaism steers us in a direction of
blessings and to find solutions with our neighbors.
But we have to make the active choice.

Making our home a place of blessings, supporting
institutions of learning and charity, and taking an
active interest in the repair of the world require
action and persistence, sometimes in trying and
negative times. During times of conflict we must also
resist the impulse to vilify our neighbor, opting
instead to settle sometimes difficult and hurtful
disputes in ways which are effective, while
respecting the sanctity of human life.

As Torah tells us, we must set our sights on
blessings so that we can embrace an inner peace,
and that the human race can collectively survive.
The true solution for humanity is to make a blessed
choice to understand our neighbor and to embrace

In the end, we may have no choice.