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Moses sets before the people the choice of a blessing if they obey God or curse if they do not. Moses details many laws including those of Kashrut. Details of the tithe system are set out as well as the three pilgrim festivals.

Another voice

Re'eh by Greg Alexander :: 5768

Greg Alexander is a planter of seeds, creative recycler and also a rabbi for Temple Israel in Cape Town. This Shabbat he and his family will be at the second ever Limmud Cape Town and he is very excited!

There's a lot to see in this week's sedra, so it's appropriate that it's called Re'eh – see! It's got laws against idolatry and self-mutilation, rules of kashrut, laws about taxes, release of debts and proper treatment of slaves and it ends with Moses reviewing the correct sacrifices to be offered during the Pilgrim Festivals - Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot.

But right at the beginning of the parshah Moses places a dramatic choice before bnei Yisrael (children of Israel): "Re'eh anochi noten lifneichem hayom brachah uklalah.

Re'eh"– "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments … and curse, if you do not obey the commandments." (11:26-30)

So our parshah offers the Israelites a choice – follow the mitzvot (commandments) and get blessed or don’t and get cursed. That doesn’t sound like a great choice, does it? Not exactly what you would call freedom and individual autonomy. But let’s have a closer look at the passuk (verse):

"Re'eh anochi noten lifneichem hayom brachah uklalah." If you write this sentence in a Hebrew ulpan, your Hebrew teacher would (hopefully) gently point out that the sentence begins in the singular (re'eh - see) and continues in the plural (lifneichem) – I am setting before "you all" (plural) blessing and curse.

Nearly a thousand years ago, Ibn Ezra (12th Century) commented on this "mistake" that the verse "addresses each individual Jew". 600 years later, his brief observation is picked up by the Vilna Gaon (18th Century) when he taught, "Should a person say to himself: As everyone else is wicked, why should I be any better?" he is told, "See! Do what is proper and ignore what everyone else does."

The decisions we take as individuals have impact far beyond the circle of our lives. We have seen in the last three hundred years how the unchecked rape and abuse of the planet’s resources have left us with a world that now hangs precariously in the balance. Will it sustain life for a few more generations, or will we find that we have pushed this world just too far? Blessing or curse? What do we choose?

Everything that we decide to consume is a choice of blessing or curse. Will we continue to purchase over-packaged non-foods that contain more chemicals than recognisable ingredients, the latter of which were harvested using unsustainable farming methods by underpaid workers and then shipped across the globe to shave a few cents off the cost? Or will we create communities that support locally grown produce, live humbler, simpler lives connected to the land that sustains us and ensuring that the generations to come choose blessing over curse?

As it states later in the parshah when talking about kashrut, "for you are a people holy to the Eternal your God". Let us make choices that are holy and that bring blessing to ourselves, our communities and the world we live in.


More by Greg Alexander

Another voice by Robert Owen

Among the long list of birds set out in this week's Parasha as being non-Kosher is the 'Duchifat'. Although the Art Scroll translation of theTorah does not translate the word for fear of uncertainty, the great medieval commentator Rashi identifies the bird as the hoopoe.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the hoopoe is an exotic looking bird that is the size of a mistle thrush. It has a pinkish-brown body, striking black and white wings, a long black downcurved bill, and a long pinkish-brown crest which it raises when excited. It does not breed in the UK, but as many as 100 birds can turn up in spring (mostly seen as single birds) as birds migrating north to Europe from Africa and they overshoot and land on the south coast of England.

Earlier this year 155,000 people participated in the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel's election to name Israel's national bird and on 30 May President Shimon Peres announced that the winner was the (non-Kosher!) hoopoe.


More by Robert Owen

Other Divrei Torah on Re'eh

  • 5766 (Steve Miller)
  • 5766 (Yoni Berger)
  • 5767 (Maureen Kendler)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (David Resnick)
  • 5769 (Anita Silvert)
  • 5770 (Maureen Kendler)
  • 5770 (Nina Robinson)
  • 5771 (Edie Friedman)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5773 (Chaim Weiner)
  • 5773 (Tammi Molad-Hayo)
  • 5774 (Yaacov Finn)
  • 5774 (Adam Frankenberg)