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

“You shall not eat anything abhorrent.”  (Deuteronomy 14:3)

Parashat Re’eh opens with a dramatic proclamation, “R’eih, see, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” (Deut. 11:26)  It closes with instructions to observe Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the three pilgrimage holidays, commanding the Israelites (among other things) to eat matzah for seven days, “…So that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt kol y’mei chayecha, all the days of your life. “(Deut. 16:3) Hidden within this guide to behavior is a prescription for a state of mind.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; leading halakhic, or Jewish legal, authority of his generation) compares the command to remember the Exodus to the command to remember what Amalek did to the Israelites in the desert (attack the weak; Deut. 25:17-18).  He notices each command includes both a stringency and a leniency.   The command to remember the Exodus is stringent, because it requires mentioning the Exodus twice daily (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 12b), while the command to remember Amalek requires mentioning it only once a year (on the Shabbat before Purim).  But the command to remember Amalek is also stringent, because it requires reading from a Sefer Torah, or Torah scroll, while the command to remember the Exodus can be fulfilled with any mention.  Feinstein explains:  remembering the Exodus strengthens faith in God’s power; any symbol can trigger that.  Remembering Amalek teaches how low one can sink without the Torah; therefore, a Sefer Torah is necessary.

These acts of remembering also embody a philosophy of life: a world in which we remember our blessings twice each day, but remember our curses only once a year. Halevai; if only.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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