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

“Together with your households, you shall feast there before the Lord your god,
happy in all the undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.” (Deut. 12:7)

Parashat R’eih ends with a reminder to observe Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the three pilgrimage festivals and commands, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite in your communities, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your midst…” (Deut. 16:11) It is natural and easy to include your children and household in celebration. But who needs the others?

The Levite, stranger, orphan, and widow (Biblical society’s “have nots;” remember, the Levites receive no portion of the land) are God’s children and household. So Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) imagines a conversation with God to understand this verse: “Four of mine against four of yours. If you make mine happy, I’ll make yours happy.” R’eih proffers a clear message: it’s not a proper party unless everybody is invited.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (1959-; Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University) pushes this idea even further. God frees us from slavery in Egypt so we will remember being freed (Rashi’s commentary on Deut. 16:12, the very next verse in R’eih). This makes the act of remembering a trigger to gratitude. But a celebration without those who remain “unfree” (even if not quite slaves) is not an act of gratitude, it’s an act of self-aggrandizement.

Parashat R’eih begins with a command voiced in the singular: R’eih, see. Moses speaks to the Israelite people as a single entity without any “us” versus “them” divide. R’eih ends with a reminder: material differences are superficial and ephemeral. We are one.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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