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Parashat R’eih (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:12)

“Bear in mind that you were slaves in Egypt, and take care to obey these laws.” (Deut. 16:12)

Parashat R’eih is the Torah’s response to anyone who says, ”I have no choice.” It opens by declaring, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse, “(Deut. 11:26) and continues to explain following the Torah leads to blessings and not following the Torah leads to curses. So, who chooses curses?

Jewish thought posits we each are driven by a yetzer hatov (impulse to do right). When we try to do good, though, we are challenged within by a yetzer hara (impulse to do wrong; Genesis Rabbah 9:7). Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892–1953; Orthodox rabbi, scholar and mashgiach ruchani (spiritual counselor) of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Israel) describes the map of our internal lives as a series of “choice points:” moments when, presented with two (or more!) options, we really might go either way. Dessler likens these moments to the line of battle in war: the area behind the battle line is controlled by each army, respectively. Only at the battle line is the struggle truly “up for grabs.”

Choice points are highly individual: what is a battle line for one is an area under control for another. And more often than not, the struggle is over something small, not large (eating one more cookie, giving a quarter to a beggar, procrastinating on a task at work). Thus, each person’s life curriculum is the constant practice of managing our yetzer hara to allow uplifting choices. We each apply our particular traits to the unique choice points we encounter throughout life.

Read through this lens, R’eih is saying, “See, I present before you today (and every day!), choices. That’s life.”

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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