Parashat Re’eh / Shabbat Rosh Hodesh

September 2-3, 2016 – 30 Av 5776

Annual (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17): Etz Hayim p. 1061; Hertz p. 799
Triennial (Deuteronomy 15:1-16:17): Etz Hayim p. 1076; Hertz p. 811
Maftir: (Numbers 28:9-15): Etz Hayim p. 930; Hertz p. 695
Haftarah (Isaiah 66:1-24, 23): Etz Hayim p. 1220; Hertz p. 944


The Choice is Ours
Rabbi James Lebeau, Former Director of the United Synagogue Jerusalem Fuchsberg Center

The Camp David 1979 meeting between Israel Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that led to the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt was scheduled the week of Parshat Re’eh. I like to believe that these two courageous leaders understood the message of the parasha.

Deuteronomy 11:26 begins, “Re’eh, Anochi notein lifneichem– See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.”  Re’eh-See is in the singular, while “lifneichem-before you” is in the plural form. Our Rabbis learned from this construction that even though God’s commandments were given to all of the people of Israel, as a community, each individual must personally affirm the mitzvot and their inherent values. By relating this idea to Camp David, I imagine that Begin and Sadat, two individuals, were motivated to enter into negotiations for peace because they believed peace would benefit ALL of their citizens who placed their trust in them.

There is a choice between a blessing and a curse. Our leaders are always faced with options and we must hope they will choose the one that will lead to blessing and fulfillment.  For two thousand years the Jewish people did not have the power to choose. Others had control of our destiny.  Since the rebirth of the modern Jewish State and its entry into the community of world nations, our leaders have been invited to deliberate our future. We now have choices.

Rabbi Zev Nelson, of blessed memory, taught a midrash that compares two alternatives to two roads.  One path is clear and straight at the outset, but ends up with many thorns and thistles that block the way.  The second path begins with thorns but in the end is straight and clear. Rabbi Nelson suggested that Moses advised Israel to take the path which is thorny in the beginning but is clear in the end.  He urged modern Israel to accept this tact in dealing with the many difficult decisions its leaders face in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.  We should confront the thorny issues that divide us immediately to provide a smooth path to peace.

Ongoing peace negotiations since 1979 have indeed been very difficult. To achieve a lasting and just peace, leaders on both sides must make compromises and neither can be expected to forfeit the right to its existence. We should take the more difficult road because it offers the promise of survival.  We have the choice and we should be guided by later verses in Deuteronomy, 30:19-20: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. CHOOSE LIFE, u’vachartem b’chayim – if you and your offspring would live-by loving the Lord your God, heeding his commandments…. For thereby you shall have life and long endure upon the soil that the Lord swore to your ancestors.”

A Vort for Parashat Re’eh
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The first letters of the key phrase commanding us to give tsdaka (charity, Deut 15:7) לֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת-יָדְךָ, מֵאָחִיךָהָאֶבְיוֹן – “don’t close your hand to your needy brother” – spell תהלים, Psalms.  R’ Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin (“the Rizhiner,” Ukraine 1797 – 1850) said that talking (or reciting Psalms) is not enough to help the poor, we must also act.  As for the repetition of “your needy brother” in the verse, the Imrei Shefer said that there are two kinds of poor – those closer to us in style and status, who’ve come on hard times, to whom it’s easy to give.  But we must also reach out, “surely open our hand” (15:8), to those with whom we don’t feel a sense of closeness.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Yet another wonderfully loaded Parasha, full of various topics that touch the communal life. We are introduced to the concept of the religious/cultic center where both public and private events are marked, but where is it?

1)  The people of Israel are commanded to destroy the [presumably pagan] worship places of the people who lived in the land previously (12:1-4). But it is different with our God. Where is He to be worshipped (12:5-7)?  What location name (that you are familiar with as a holy site) is missing? Why might that be?

2) In addition to several ‘food restrictions’ mentioned in this Parasha (14:3-21), there is a ‘location restriction’ for some foods:  What is only allowed to be eaten in God’s Chosen Place (12:13-19, 14:22-27)?  Even when eating there, what are we forbidden to eat (12:16)?

3)  If a prophet or a dreamer tells us to follow other gods, we may not listen to that prophet or dreamer (13:2-6).  What would make us believe him in the first place? Why would God allow this to happen? Is there any easy way to detect if a prophet is true or false?

4) In the Shmita (sabbatical) year we are commanded to drop our claims to debts that individuals from our people owe us (15:1-6). Read the Torah text carefully:  whose debt are we forgiving?  Why did the Torah choose to call the borrower by that title?  What problem could this Mitzvah cause?  Is it good or bad for individuals who are in financial straits? Why? [Note that this question refers only to the Torah text. Rabbinic texts have plenty to say on practice of this Mitzvah.]

5)  The Mitzvah of Tzedaka (often translated as ‘charity’, but note that it is not optional according to Torah) follows in 15:7-11.  Read carefully: what does the Torah call the person in need?  Why do you think that title chosen? Help might be given as a loan, not a gift.  What is the positive aspect of a loan?  Why might some argue (in light of the previous question) that