Weekly Reading Insights: Re'eh 5780



Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Re'eh - 25 Menacham Av 5779 /Aug. 15
Shabbat Mevarchim

Torah: Deut. 11:26-16:17
Haftorah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5 (3rd of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation)

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 week's Torah portion is Re'eh, which means, "See". Re'eh is always read just before, or on the first day of the month of Ellul (this year August 20 & 21) - the sixth Jewish lunar month, the month of preparation for the High Holidays. Jewish tradition teaches that how much we prepare from below to Above during Ellul, meaning improving ourselves and fixing our negative traits between man and man and also between man and G-d, will affect how much spiritual and physical blessings we will be able to draw down from Above into our lives during Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays (starting with Rosh Hashanah, September 10th & 20).

What is the connection to seeing? The first verse of the portion is, "See [singular], I have given before you [plural] today a blessing."(Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:26). The Kotzker Rebbe [1] once shared that the reason the tenses are different is because when you give, you give to everyone equally. But when you see, each person sees in his or her own individual way. How does a person see? Our seeing is a reflection of where we are holding inside ourselves. So, part of the challenge is to work on ourselves during Ellul so we can see G-d's blessings revealed.
(from LIkkutim Sippurim Niflaim)

This is also a hint that the month of Ellul is itself a blessing that a Jew not only hears, but the actual drawing down of the blessing is in a way of "seeing". What does that mean? There could be a situation where, like a bitter pill to cure a disease, we get a blessing from G-d which is essentially good, because (Eicha 3:38) "Only good comes from Above." but it sometimes comes down in a way that we do not see it as good. Here G-d is telling us that it will be revealed good.
( Likkutei Sichot: An Anthology of Talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. First day of Ellul, 1968)

Another way to understand the first verse is - Re'eh, "See I have given…", that right now, in real time, G-d has given each of us the ability to really see. To see Divinity in the world! So, so much higher than the level of hearing and even understanding. This is what the Talmud teaches (Yevamot 65:72), that hearing is not comparable to seeing. Moshe, in his last speeches to the Jewish people in the desert, gave us a certain level of this, while the complete "seeing" will be given to us when Mashiach arrives. In the meantime, we are on a "seeing journey", increasingly upwards.

How can we put this all into serving G-d?

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 26a) teaches that a witness cannot become a judge. Since the witness saw what happened, it is not possible for him to see any merit in the accused. This is not the case of the judges who, since they only heard the details from the witnesses, even though they do not doubt the truth of the testimony of the witnesses, they nevertheless still have the ability to view the accused in a positive light. It turns out that when we see something it becomes a certainty that is almost impossible for us to deny, since he or she saw it. Which is not the case with a person who heard something. Even if it was heard from the most reliable source, it can still be doubted. Not at all like the certainty of seeing.

This is what the verse is cautioning us. That learning Torah, as the verse in the portion says, "…that I am putting before you today…", has to be in a way of seeing. It should not be in a way of hearing or believing that what I am studying is in such and such a way. Rather, it must be a certainty to us like seeing. True, "seeing" something you are learning takes much more effort, but the impact is completely different. We are so certain of the truth of it, that any doubts, even any changes in our perception, are impossible.
(Adapted from The Rebbe's Farbrengens, 1990. Volume 4. Page 173. Also in Likras Shabbos).

Another way to understand the difference between seeing and hearing? There is a story about the holy Kabbalist of Tsfat, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [2], that once while taking a nap, he was privileged to hear in the "heavenly yeshiva" wondrous secrets. He later said that if he was to lecture for eighty years, he would not be able to transmit all that he had grasped. This is the lesson for us, that what he saw in an hour would take eighty years to receive by our hearing.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

[1]Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. 1880-1950. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.
[2] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk. 1787-1859.
[3] The first compilation of the oral law authored by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (approx. 200 C.E).

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


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