Parashat Re’eh – Erev Shabbat 14 August 2020
Week of 9-15 August 2020
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5
Theme: Moses’ reminder before entering the land

In the last days of Moses’ life, he spoke passionately to the Israelites as they prepared to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. His message was clear and concise, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God … and a curse if you do not obey the commandments.” (11:26-28) The Israelites were in a covenantal relationship with God:  “You are my people and I am your God.” (Ex 6:7) God’s faithfulness was never in question but the Israelites were so often on the brink of faithlessness that Moses had to remind them of their covenant with the LORD.

The very worst that could happen would be that they would seek after the gods of other nations, therefore Moses commanded them that as they entered the land, they were to destroy all the altars and places of worship of foreign gods. Then they were to offer sacrifice to God who had redeemed them and brought them out of Egypt. He cautioned them, “Do not imitate those who worship other gods, you are a people holy to the LORD”. (Deut 14:2)

In this discourse he reminds the Israelites of their dietary laws; the remission of debts every seventh year; the response to the needy in community; the offering of the firstlings of the herds and flocks; and of the observation of the pilgrim festivals. Moses assured them that if they followed God’s laws, they would be blessed more than other peoples: “You shall eat there in the presence of the LORD, your God, you and your household  together, rejoicing in all the undertakings in which the LORD, your God has blessed you”. (12:7)

What Moses had related to the Israelites clearly shows the high expectation God had for his people. They were called to be faithful to God who had heard their cry of desperation and brought them out of slavery and as they were about to enter the Promised Land, they were to remember who they are and what God had asked them to do. Their hopes and expectations are raised: God too, had placed confidence in this people, knowing that they could fulfill all that they were called to do. The challenge offered to them was always to hear – ‘Shema Israel’ (Deut 6:4).  Their undivided focus was always ‘listening’ to the LORD God and ‘doing’.

Maimonides stated that God lies beyond the reach of language and thus he questioned, “Why then does the Torah run the constant risk of anthropomorphism, by speaking of God in human terms?” He answers his own question: “To tell us something not about God, but about us – how we should behave, and what kind of relationships we should have with people.” (Sacks, 241)

As I read these chapters, I was struck by the number of times that joy and rejoicing are mentioned. The word, joy, appears twelve times in the Old Testament and seven of these are found in this Parasha. The Israelites’ journey, apart from the marvelous deeds of God in securing their freedom from slavery, had been marked by much suffering and uncertainty. Now they longed for a life, a place of their own where they could live in peace, where they could be free. This is what Moses explained to them would all be theirs if they chose the ‘blessing’: “Rejoice in the presence of the Lord, your God, in all your undertakings.” (Deut 12:18)

In their sojourn in the desert, God did not abandon them and now more than ever God would continue to be a loving presence for them as they entered the land. They truly had reason to rejoice and to celebrate: they had reclaimed their identity. They were no longer victims of a harsh regime; this was the moment of joy and gratitude to God who has saved them: “Rejoice before the LORD, your God!” (12:12) The Israelites were to look to the future; support one another; and remember that the past could not be changed. The future could be changed by their choice of the ‘blessing’. They knew God was faithful and with this certitude, they could move ahead with joy in their hearts.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What lessons do you take from this Parasha?2.Are the values you live by and cherish visible to others?

Bibliography: Lieber, D. Etz Hayim (New York: 2001), Sacks, J. To Heal A Fractured World (New York: 2005)


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