In Parshas Re’eh, God tells the Jewish people, “See, I put before you today blessing and curse.” The blessing will go to those who keep the Torah and its mitzvot. The curse will affect those who do not heed the Torah.
In the Torah we usually hear appeals to the Israelites in the form of “listen” (שמע). We might have expected God to say, “Listen, I will explain to you how to achieve blessing and avoid curse. ”
But the parasha this week begins with the the exhortation to “see” (ראה). Already we know something different is going on here.
Why does God say, “Re’eh–See”?
Our Rabbis said that when a person hears something, he does not always believe it. Perhaps he didn’t hear clearly or the message was not passed to him accurately. He can challenge that which he heard. But unlike hearing, seeing is absolute. A person who sees something accepts it as fact. He sees it with his own eyes and can not deny it. If you tell him it isn’t true, he will insist that it is.
Sight gives the mind the information all at once, conveying a scene, with its thousands if not millions of details, as a single imprint. The eye sees it all simultaneously; the mind then proceeds to process all this information, drawing from the all-embracing image imparted by the eye.
Our hearing functions in the very opposite manner: we hear but one sound at a time. We cannot grasp the entire idea at once: we can only hear it, sentence by sentence, word by word, syllable by syllable. We cannot see the entire concerto as a whole: we can only hear it, bar by bar, note by note. Each of these particulars is virtually meaningless on its own; we must recreate the idea or the score in our minds, piecing it together bit by bit.
And yet another explanation:
Chinese philospher Confucius said: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
All too often we go through life without focusing on the reason for our existence. We fail to give meaning and purpose to our lives. God, therefore, chooses His words carefully, instructing us, “See”– focus and comprehend –“I have put before you blessing.” Understand what will bring blessing, purpose and meaning to your lives. Discover challenges and opportunities in life that will be beneficial to you. If you look carefully, you will find meaning (משמעות) in life.
When we are commanded to listen, it is someone else’s words we are to hear, and, in the Torah, it is usually God’s words which we are to heed. But, with the word re’eh (“see!”), it is our own behaviour, in essence, that we are being commanded to examine.
This brings us to the central theme of Parashat Re’eh — choices.
The parasha deals with making decisions in our lives:
- Distinguishing between our holy places and those of others
- Deciphering which animals can be used for sacrifice
- Determing which animals can serve as food
- Making choices between true prophets and certain types of diviners
Each of these issues relates to the types of personal choices we make in our lives and the values that are important to us. At the core of our lives are the decisions we make about how to interact with each other, with our world, and with God.
God has given us free choice. We know what God wants us to choose, but, in the end, the choice belongs to us. Indeed, the distinguishing characteristic of human beings, setting us apart from other animals, is our ability to choose the values by which we live. Free will is God’s greatest gift to us. But we also must take responsibility for those choices and the consequences of our decisions.
As we struggle to make the right choices it is difficult, but once we make the right choice, the path forward is easy.
The lesson of the parasha is for us to think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and realize how much control we always have! If we choose a positive attitude, and see the challenges that are presented to us as opportunities to grow spiritually, then our lives become a blessing. But if we view events from a negative perspective, seeing any inconvenience as an unwelcome burden, then life becomes a curse. The essence of Torah has not changed, nor have the mitzvot, although interpretations do vary. And what God wants of us has not changed: chose blessing.