“You shall not do like everything that we do here today-
rather, every man what is proper in his eyes.” (Deut.12:9)
Parashat Re’eh opens with a dramatic proclamation, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” (Deut. 11:26). Many commentators use this verse to explore the question of free will (what will I do?). Others emphasize the reward and punishment implicit in the statement (why will I do that?). Still others focus on the use of the word “see” when more often the Torah exhorts the Israelites to “hear, ” or “hearken” (why do I believe I should do that?). A grammatical mismatch between the words “see” and “before you,” though, steers the conversation in a different direction entirely.
In the Hebrew, “see” (re’eh) is singular, while “before you” (lifneichem) is plural. This allows the verse to be read as,” See [to the individual], I present before you [the group] a blessing and a curse.” Suddenly, the Torah is suggesting a new question: what is my relationship to the group? Modern social network theory states it is the group that influences the individual (more specifically, that your friend’s friend’s friends behavior affect you). However, the rabbis use this verse from Re’eh to come to a different conclusion: each individual has the power to affect the entire world for good (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 40a). That is why Rabbi Shlomo Luntschitz (1550-1619; best known for his Torah commentary Kli Yakar) says each individual should feel an obligation to the group.
These two views regarding influence do not conflict, though, because each understands all humanity is connected. No one lives in isolation and no one can behave without affecting someone else. Focusing on the relationship between the individual and the group changes Re’eh’s question from, “Will I receive a blessing or a curse?” to, “Will I be a blessing or a curse?”
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom