Parashat Re’eh – Erev Shabbat 7 August 2021
Week of 01 – 07 August 2021
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 Haftarah: Isaiah 54 :11-55
Theme: See, I set before you
Parashat Re’eh states, “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debt” (Deuteronomy 15:1). The term used is “sh’mitah”, which has the root meaning “to let drop” (Plaut, 1270). R. Pesach Schindler explained that in the first century CE, Hillel, the Elder, who lived around the time of Jesus, was the legal head of a community. He saw the problems associated with a literal application of the precept. (Unless you are a tzadik who is able to carry out this precept to the letter, you are such a righteous person that you don’t belong in this world). Hillel teaches that common sense is stronger than theology and analyzes what can be done. It always remains clear that taking advantage of a situation is considered stealing, and “remembrance” of the law with close reading of the text remains the starting point. The action that Hillel takes is the institution of a court. This court becomes God’s agent for justice in this world. The court then allows for a “prosbul”, a contract, which circumvented its abuses (Plaut, 1270). For me, as an individual, this teaching reinforced that the interpretation of a text is not a means to avoid implementation of a challenging precept; rather it is a means to honor the text and make its application meaningful.
Parashat Re’eh, as part of the Book of Deuteronomy, is written in a style based on older Assyrian and other Near-Eastern writings. It uses Moses as the speaker who begins with the phrase: re’eh, (resh aleph, hey) meaning, “see”; “anochi notech lifnechem”, meaning, “I set before you” (Deut. 11:26) which affirms the free choice given to us. (Plaut, 1259)
A precept, easier to fulfill, is found in Deuteronomy 12:12 and 16:11, “You shall rejoice”, and again in 16:15, “You shall have nothing but joy.” The context here is the three (agricultural, pilgrim) festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Nehama Leibowitz in “Studies in Devarim” (151) points out that there is no precept for joy regarding Pesach. It is stated once for the celebration of Shavuot, and repeated twice for Sukkot. Verse 16:15 uses the phrase “ach”, (aleph, kaf) which is interpreted as doing nothing else but rejoice, while an alternative interpretation is that certain work and study of Torah is ordained in the spirit of rejoicing (152).
To take a slightly closer look at Sukkot, commonly called “zeman simchateinu”, or “the season of our rejoicing”; this joy could be interpreted as joy for completing the harvest, or because of finishing the process of repentance of the Days of Awe. We are meant to have a sense of fulfillment and security (Strassfield, 126)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Could I review, teach or study the Hebrew vocabulary?
2. Respect for precepts and law requires attention and interpretation. Where am I challenged in that area today? 3. Where does our work and rest include fulfillment, security and joy?
Bibliography: Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim (Israel, Maor Wallach Press); Plaut, The Torah, A Modern Commentary (New York, 2006); Strassfield, The Jewish Holidays (New York, 1985).
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
MariAnn (Marjan) Saenen, B.A. M.A. Michigan State University,