In Parashat Re’eh, nestled within the Book of Deuteronomy, teaches the relationship between the Israelites, their choices, and their Divine destiny. This portion emphasizes the concepts of blessings and curses, the centrality of the chosen place of worship, and the call to holiness. Drawing from various sources in the Torah, Rishonim, and Talmud, we can uncover timeless insights that resonate with our spiritual journey.
The Blessings and Curses (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17): As the Israelites stand on the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses expounds the blessings that will be bestowed upon them for observing the commandments and the curses that will befall them for straying from the path of righteousness. This dualistic paradigm sets the tone for the moral compass that will guide the nation’s destiny. Likewise, on an individual level, one will bring himself either closer to or further from God on account of his actions. God’s blessing is always available, but sin creates further distancing, as a barrier.
The Torah sets forth blessings and curses that mirror the fundamental principle of “free will.” Ramban explains that these choices determine not only the nation’s fate but also shape the destiny of the entire world, as the Israelites serve as a paradigm for humanity. Of course, there are many other understandings of the subject which is never addressed in the Torah.
The Place of Worship (Deuteronomy 12:1-28): The centrality of worship in one designated place is highlighted. The parashah emphasizes the importance of bringing offerings, tithes, and sacrifices to the place where God’s presence will dwell. Rashi, drawing from the Talmud (Zevachim 118b), explains that this commandment was to prevent the proliferation of idolatry and ensure a unified worship experience. Having offerings on a daily, weekly, and holiday-based system also created the pilgrimages, bringing people from potentially far-flung areas to the center of holiness, bringing the processes into sharp view as people sought repentence and spiritual growth.
Rambam (Maimonides), in his “Guide for the Perplexed,” elaborates on the significance of centralized worship. He posits that a single, sacred location cultivates unity among the people and eradicates the allure of idolatry. The Talmud (Berakhot 32b) underscores this unity by noting that all Israelites should face the same direction during prayer, despite their dispersion after the Temple’s destruction.
On the other side of the equation, the Torah portion continues with laws related to holiness, covering topics such as dietary restrictions and acts of compassion. Ramban (Nachmanides) notes that these laws elevate the Israelites by instilling in them a unique sense of sanctity and moral refinement. While material world presents opportunity to sin, it also makes every moment one of care, thought, and mitzvah observance. God is not only in his Temple but Jews connect to Torah in the items we touch, the food we eat, and anything else.
The Talmud (Berakhot 32b) delves into the concept of holiness, revealing that the designation of “holy” (kadosh) is not merely about separation, but about elevating the mundane to a higher spiritual plane. This echoes the sentiment expressed by Ramban, who sees the laws of holiness as a transformative force within the individual and the community.
Parashat Re’eh encapsulates a profound synthesis of blessings and choices, worship and unity, and holiness and moral refinement. As we navigate our own journeys through life, these teachings resonate deeply. Just as the Israelites stood on the brink of a new era, we too stand at crossroads of choices, yearning for blessings and holiness ahead of the New Year in just a few weeks from this reading. The lessons of this parashah beckon us to embrace our free will, connect with a unified purpose, and elevate our lives by adhering to the path of righteousness and sanctity. In doing so, we engage with the timeless wisdom of our lineage, drawing from the Torah, the words of the Rishonim (medieval commentators), and the insights of the Talmud, which continue to illuminate our way forward.