Drash on Parashat Re’eh
Cantor Michel Laloum
Temple Beth Israel
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
This Shabbat as we read parashat Re’eh, it is also Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the month of High Holiday preparation. As we come closer to the ‘Days of Awe’ we have the opportunity to reflect on our year’s achievements, challenges, successes and shortcomings. We begin the process of Teshuvah, of returning to the best we can be.
This parasha covers many subjects from the prohibition of eating blood through the details of the three pilgrimage festivals. Yet one concept stands out as the fundamental core of Judaism, and especially of Progressive Judaism – freedom of choice or bechirat chofshit. Parashat Re’eh opens with our options being spelled out explicitly: Do we follow the mitzvot and receive a blessing or not and receive a curse?
Deut 11:26 tells us “behold I set before you this day a blessing and a curse”, and Moshe points out the paths which lead to happiness and those which lead to misfortune. Moshe implies that it is up to us to choose which of these paths we wish to take. One of the curses expressed in Re’eh is if you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing, he will cry out to Adonai against you, and you will incur guilt (15:9).
The Vilna Gaon in the late 18th century explained that God continually gives us daily choices, and it is up to us to choose the good and to reject the evil, or we may choose the evil and reject the good. The ‘good life’ is dependent upon our ongoing choices, not upon what we have done in the past or what we may do in the future.
This situates our whole theology on our daily choices and even more so on our daily actions. It is not about what we did in the past or may do in the future, but only whether we are behaving appropriately in the moment. Our preoccupation is not with guilt for past misbehavior, nor with scoring points for a better ring side seat in the world to come, but rather Judaism’s emphasis is purely and simply based on at the end of each moment, each minute, each hour, each day, week, month or at the end of the year at Yom Kippur – can I hold my head up high in the presence of God with a clear conscience?
The kriat Shema lemitah - the version of the Shema said before going to sleep incorporates the following paragraph:
“Riboynu shel Olam - God of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me – whether against my body, willfully, carelessly, or purposely, whether through speech or deed, thought or notion, whether in this transmigration or another transmigration – I forgive everyone. May no one be punished because of me.”
If each and every one of us could bring ourselves to say these words with full comprehension, intent and conviction – how different would our world be?! Perhaps then we would be able to forgive others, and behave in a way where we ourselves would not need to be forgiven.
Bechirat chofshit – free choice allows us the choice between bringing ourselves closer to God and Godliness or distancing ourselves from God and Godly behavior
“Hashiveynu Adonai elecha venashuvah, chadesh yameynu kekedem”
Return us to you O God, and we shall return, may our days be renewed as of yore.