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

“You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases.” (Deuteronomy 12:8)

Classic rabbinic thought presumes every letter, word, and verse of the Torah is equally sacred. Still, some verses seem to carry more punch than others. Parashat R’eih opens with one such verse: “R’eih, see, this day I set before you blessing and curse.” (Deut. 11:26)

In the Hebrew, “see” 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.” The rabbis claim this verse assigns each individual the power to affect the entire world for good (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 40a). Bachya ibn Pakuda (11th century Spanish rabbi and philosopher) builds on this and goes even further: the fate of the group depends upon the behavior of the individual.

Gersonides (1288–1344; medieval French Talmudist and philosopher) focusses on the words “this day,” interpreting them to mean the Israelites may not wait for the conquest of the land to perform the commandments, but must fulfill them immediately upon entry into Canaan. This is a paradigm for performing any mitzvah, or commandment, as soon as possible.

S’forno (~1470-~1550; Italian commentator and physician) infers from the last words (blessing and curse) there is no middle ground in God’s proclamation: the Israelites must choose one or the other.

Usually, God commands the Israelites to listen and hear. R’eih command them to see. R’eih’s purpose, however, is not for the Israelites to perceive what is in front of them physically. It is to imagine the consequences of their behavior. God is asking the Israelites to have a vision of life rooted in covenant and commandment.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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