Parashat Re’eh: A Personal Vision that Changes Everything
Everything rests on a person’s own vision. Will that person succeed in using that deep vision to discern between blessing and curse, and make the right choice?
Aliza Goldberg is the director of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s AMLAT Program for young women from Latin America
Parshat Re’eh is generally read on the Shabbat when we bless the upcoming month of Elul. It gives those who study it inspiration, strength of character and courage so that they can proudly experience the month of Elul, the month of repentance. The days of the month of Elul are infused with the power of connection, and this month awakens us with a call to connect to our Creator. It is an earthly awakening that brings about a spiritual one, and instills in Jews a strong desire to mend their ways and grow stronger in their worship of Hashem.
Our parsha begins with the following verse: “See, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse”. Our commentators asked why the parsha begins in the singular – re’eh (“see”), and ends in the plural – lifneichem. The Rebbe of Kotzk replies that the words “set before you” refer to something given to everyone equally, but each recipient sees the gift in a different light, since each individual has his or her own way of seeing things. One answer, which may seem rather simply, is actually very profound.
I remember a story my father would tell me about a small town with many artists, cobblers, tailors, carpenters and the like. This town lacked one profession, though: watchmakers. With time, all of the watches worn by all of the townsmen started breaking down, so much so that they ultimately decided to stop using and setting their watches, since they weren’t working anyway, and weren’t displaying the correct time.
Several years went by. One day, a watchmaker came to visit the town. Once they heard about the new visitor, all of the townsmen took their watches and stood in line, hoping the watchmaker could repair their watches. However, the watchmaker was unable to fix any of the watches, save one: Moisheleh’s watch. “What is it about Moisheleh’s watch? Why can his watch be fixed?”, everyone asked. The watchmaker replied: “Moisheleh is the only one who, for all these years, chose to continue setting his watch (the earthly awakening), and not give up, even though his choice was different from that of everyone around him.
The Sefat Emet was taken by how the blessing and the curse were juxtaposed, and explained that the blessings and curses in this world are intermixed. Hashem placed them both in our world to try to evaluate the “receptacle” in each and every one of us, wondering how much we would continue “setting our watches”, day after day, even if these “watches” seemed to be out of order. Everything rests on a person’s own vision. Will that person succeed in using that deep vision to discern between blessing and curse, and make the right choice?
This choice allows us to turn over a new leaf, and it gives us the strength to attain a higher rung, namely, to succeed in converting the blessing into a curse, as Resh Lakish stated in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 76: “intentional sins are turned into merits”.
The next verse of the parsha reads as follows: “The blessing, if you obey the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I enjoin upon you this day…” This reflects the transition from the power of vision (“See, I have set before you…”) and the power of hearing. R. Shmuel Bornsztain, the second Sochatchover rebbe, notes this, saying: “Here, according to the birth order of the tribes, the month of Iyyar refers to Shimon, and the month of Nissan refers to Reuben. Reuben’s name derives from the expression ki ra’ah Hashem – “For Hashem saw”. Shimon’s name is derived from the expression ki shama Hashem – “For Hashem has heard”. These two months are about assessing our vision and our hearing.
The Zohar states that we see things from close up, while we hear things from afar. In other words, in Nissan, the people of Israel saw Hashem with their own eyes, as we read: “the dough of our ancestors had not time to become leavened, when the Holy Supreme King of kings, blessed be He, appeared unto them…” During the month of Iyyar, all that is left to do is assess how faraway sounds of heard. It is exciting to think that the entire nation of Israel, at this very moment, was about to enter the land of Israel, “the desirable land”, and that at the outset, the Holy One, Blessed Be He begins with the sense of sight: “See, this day I set before you…”. This encounter with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is vital to the people, both as individuals and as a collective, to ensure that they remember who their Father is and that they had “seen him”. It is for good reason that the idea of zecher li’tzi’at mitzrayim, “a memory of the exodus from Egypt”, is repeated so often. This was a miracle we saw with our very own eyes, and the experience was eternal.
Today in the land of Israel, however, our connection with the Creator of the universe is longer merely a product of what we saw when we left Egypt, and when we were wandering through the desert. We ascended to a higher plane in the land of Israel – the plane of hearing – a dimension that allows us to “see sounds”, to adhere to Hashem on an internal level, and to deepen our connection to Him. This is why the verse continues with “and the blessing which you shall hear.” When we left Egypt and traveled in the desert, we sufficed with the first stage, the stage of sight, but once we entered the land of Israel, the sense of hearing, which depends on us – on our willingness to listen and our ability to be open to inward communication and internal wisdom. If we succeed in all of these, we can choose to hear the blessing. “Internal hearing” leads us to observing Hashem’s commandments, not mechanically, because we were commanded to do so, but out of adherence and a deep connection to Him.
The parsha ends with the pilgrimage – the pinnacle of joy in the land. It encompasses gratitude as well as a natural and spiritual connection. Rejoicing during the shloshet regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals, is a true expression of joy. The word yismach is an anagram of the word mashiach, the Messiah, and the joy intrinsic to the three pilgrimage festivals is tied to redemption. Through these festivals, we connect our vision (remembering the exodus from Egypt) with our hearing (our adherence to Hashem), because for us, the inhabitants of the land of Israel, adherence to Hashem is natural. It stems from our gratitude for things that are good and sublime.
This is the essence of the month of Elul: “I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine.” If “I am my beloved’s”, that is, if I am able to both see and hear, I will merit to see the voice and hear and sense the power of the blessing, and then, “my beloved is mine”. We then become delicate receptacles that can become filled with blessings.