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Parashat Re’eh

August 12, 2009

August: the lazy days of summer. Our senses are filled with the beauty of late sunsets, the taste of fresh produce, the feeling of grass on bare feet. My family and I will be setting out on vacation shortly, a road trip that will include visits to college campuses, as we embark on the ritual of “The College Selection Process”. I’m comforted by the thought that our daughter still has two more years at home with us, before she heads off to college…

“SEE THIS DAY I SET BEFORE YOU BLESSING AND CURSE”! Like a prelude to the daily shofar blast which takes place during the upcoming month of Elul, the first words of Parashat Re’eh shake us out of our summertime complacency. Wake up, choose blessing, and be ready for what lies ahead, “For you are about to cross the Jordan and possess the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.” (Deut. 11:31).

In the Torah, what lies ahead for the Israelites is the new life promised to them by God, which Moses will not see. And so, like a parent whose child is preparing to leave home, he wants to make sure that the children of Israel will have all the information they need, in order to make right choices. He has a lot to say: in Re’eh alone, we read not only the dire warnings against idol worship but also about the laws of kashrut; the celebration of the three major festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot; tithing; the seventh-year remission of debts; and more.

All of this information regarding observance of the laws is presented in great detail. But there is a noticeable omission. As we read numerous descriptions regarding the offerings and sacrifices which are to be made, there are no less than twelve occurrences of the phrase “ba-makom asher yivhar Adonai…“, “in the place that the Lord your God will choose…” Such repetition is no accident: why doesn’t God, through Moses, tell the people where this most important “place”, this sacred gathering center, will be? Surely God the All-knowing has already chosen the sacred location. Perhaps God thought they already had plenty to think about, or that they weren’t ready to fully comprehend the significance of such a place. As our people sat and listened, they had to accept that this aspect of their new lives would remain, for the time being, a mystery.

Those of us who pride ourselves (perhaps too much) on our ability to plan ahead might have had a particularly difficult time with this approach. Imagine being there:
“Let me get this straight: we’ve got these cool new rules about tithing our yearly produce – and bringing it to ‘the place…’; making a thank-you-God offering of the firstlings of our flock – and eating it in Your presence in ‘the place…’, celebrating three festivals a year in – ‘the place…’. Where exactly is this place going to be? Are we talking about a journey of five hours, or five days? Who will look after the crops while we’re gone? Where will we stay once we get there? Will I need to bring a babysitter? …”

Clearly, there is a big “Trust Me” factor here, as there is throughout the Torah. The Israelites have already learned the importance of trusting that God will ensure their success in overcoming their enemies after they cross the Jordan. Now they must also trust that one of the most important aspects of their new lives – where the central place of offering, sacrifice and celebration is to be located – will be made known to them only in the due course of time. The title of this Torah portion, Re’eh (“See”) therefore, refers not only to seeing the choice before them of blessing and curse. “Re’eh” is also a lesson about stepping into an unknown future, with a partial vision of what lies ahead and much that is yet to be revealed.

As we savor the remaining days of August and enter the month of Elul which begins next week, may we be inspired by the journey of our ancestors. In preparation for the upcoming High Holidays we look back at the past year and consider what lies ahead.

While we prepare for what comes next in our lives and in the lives of our children, may we find the strength to trust that some of the most important and most rewarding details will be revealed to us only when we are ready to receive them.


Sandy Horowitz is a cantorial student at AJR.