Weekly Reading Insights: Re'eh 5781


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Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Re'eh, 29 Menachem Av 5781/Aug. 7th, 2021
Shabbat Mevarchim

Torah: Deut. 11:26-16:17
Haftorah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5 (3rd of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation), Samuel I 20:18,42

Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 5

Re'eh is the 4th Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and it contains 7442 letters, in 1932 words, in 126 verses

Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17) opens with a blessing and curse being placed before the Jewish people - our actions determine the outcome! The Jews are reminded to obliterate idolatry from the Land and to offer sacrifices only where permitted. Laws are given concerning slaughtering and eating meat. The Jews are warned not to worship as the idolaters did. Punishments of false prophets, missionaries, and apostate cities are discussed. G-d calls the Jews His "children" and a "special nation" which He chose from all the other nations. Next are listed laws of kosher animals, fowl, fish and insects and the prohibition for cooking milk and meat together. Also, laws of tithes and the Sabbatical year are relayed, in particular, the relinquishing of debts. The Jews are reminded not to withhold giving loans because of this, and will receive G-d's blessing for doing so. Following this is a list of laws regarding slaves. Additional laws that are listed: first-born "clean" animals are dedicated to G-d; blemished animals are forbidden to be offered; consuming blood is forbidden. Re'eh concludes with the laws of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. .


An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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This Shabbat, in addition to reading the Torah portion Re'eh, is also "Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Elul" (the Shabbat that blesses the month of Elul) - this is the Shabbat that precedes the first days of the new Hebrew month of Elul (this coming Sunday & Monday, August 8th & 9th).

The custom of the Shabbat Mevarchim ceremony, that in synagogue we announce and bless the day or days of the coming month, originated in the centuries after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem. The custom is at least 1650 years old. With the exception of the very last Shabbat of the Jewish calendar year (this is the Shabbat that immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah, one month from now), this dramatic ritual takes place immediately after the reading of the Haftarah in the presence of the Torah scroll. Ostensibly, the purpose of the custom is that everyone in the congregation should know when the new month begins. The main point is the announcement. The blessing is secondary.

The Baal Shem Tov taught the deeper inner dimension of this ceremony. Through this blessing (Birkat HaChodesh of the congregation), the Jewish people draw down from the supernal source the unique Divine potential and strength for each of the Jewish calendar months. The reason there is no ceremony next month, the Shabbat that precedes Rosh Hashanah (which are also the first days of the new month of Tishrei), the Baal Shem Tov further elucidated, is because on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, it is G-d who blesses the coming month of Tishrei in which are all the High Holidays. Each month after the Jewish people draw on G-d's blessing to bless each of the other months.

The Kabbalists explain (Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, chapter 14) that this blessing that comes at the end of each year draws into the world a new spiritual light that illuminates reality. They also say that each year this new light is "higher" (meaning that is comes from a higher spiritual source and is therefore much stronger) than in previous years. Though it is revealed on Rosh Hashanah , this new light is actually drawn down from on high a few days before, on the last Shabbat of the year. This new light, as well as G-d's blessing, is then divided up between the other eleven months and revealed, during each month, all year long.

There is a principle discussed in one of the first Kabbalistic texts, Sefer Yetzirah (1:47), that "The beginning is tucked into the end and the end into the beginning". Ends and beginnings are related in revealed and hidden ways. Based on this, we have to look for a connection between this coming Shabbat that will bless the coming month of Elul , the last of the months that the Jewish people bless the month, and the last Shabbat of the year, when the process begins with G-d blessing of the month of Tishrei .

As we said, since Rosh Hashanah's energy is divided between all the other months, it is easy to understand that this coming month of Elul requires some special preparation, some extra effort on our part. The reason is that, as the last month before the High Holidays and being the "Shabbat that blesses", it serves a special function. The tribe of Dan was placed at the rear of the twelve tribes as the Jewish people traveled through the desert. They were given the task to collect and return whatever was left and lost by all the other tribes. Similarly, this last " Shabbat that blesses" of the year also collects and salvages all that was not accomplished, even little things, even back to the beginning of the year, from all the other ' Shabbatot that bless". This is the inner meaning of the saying that the beginning is tucked into the end. Our behavior this Shabbat Mevarchim, will in fact affect, not just all of last year but also the coming month of Elul, which in turn will affect the Shabbat before the High Holidays, which will in turn will affect the entire coming year! This Shabbat, Parshat Re'eh, will affect the entire coming thirteen months!

Even though everything in our lives depends on the efforts we make ("the reward is according to the effort…"), nevertheless, there is a special blessing for each of us this Shabbat that makes it easier to correct and repair anything lacking from the past eleven " Shabbatot that bless" and affect the coming 13 months. We must realize that there is a certain urgency. If we do not take advantage of this opportunity now to repair any damage, there will unfortunately not be any further opportunities to do the repair later as effectively. Especially our generation, called "the heel of Mashiach", since his arrival is imminent, we will not want to lose this golden opportunity and will act now. (From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1977).

This idea is connected to the first verse in this week's Torah portion, Re'eh ("See"). Moshe said, "I have placed before you today the blessing." Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Code of Jewish Law and one of Tsfat's great luminaries) writes in his book Maggid Meisharim that the secret of parshat Re'eh is as follows. Everybody has a soul. Just as there are organs that make up the body, so there are organs that make up the soul. Even though the organs of the soul are not material because they are enclosed in the body, they do have some substance. Similarly, the blessings and potential that come from Above also have some level of visibility and substance only most people can not see them clearly, if at all.

Our portion begins with the word Re'eh ("see") Moshe is telling the Jewish people, SEE! He showed the Jewish people how to use their spiritual eyes with which to see the blessings and told them, that even today, when we are attached to our physical bodies, enmeshed in these lower worlds, even so, we have the ability to literally SEE the blessings! That is why he used the word, Re'eh in the singular - each one of us can see!

This is the power of Shabbat Re'eh , the Shabbat that precedes the month of Elul - that we can see the blessings and potential, and, please G-d, take advantage and use them.
The tzadik Rebbe Yoel Tshefler was a student of the Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch. On his way to his rebbe for an Elul visit, he happened to hear two farmers speaking.
"My friend," said one, "we have to work harder and quicker. If we don't plow the land and prepare it for seeding, we will be hungry for bread the entire coming year!"

These words stuck in the heart of Rebbe Yoel. Even when he arrived at his rebbe's court, the spiritual significance of what he had heard was repeated many times in his thoughts. "If I do not repair my behavior and work on improving my character this month of Elul and next month Tishrei, where will I find the strength to work on myself properly the entire coming year?"
(Adapted from Sichat HaShavua)

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov , Shaul


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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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