Re'eh; reward and punishment
This week's sedra is called Re'eh, and it marks a changing point in sefer Devarim. Until now, Moshe has been talking to Bnei Yisrael and warning them on the subject of yiras shamayim as opposed to individual mitzvos. Re'eh marks the start of reference to the individual mitzvos on the whole (Chizkuni 11;26). The order is an apt one (and Moshe Rabeinu does not need my approval nor praise!), and is the same reason why we are told to remember the 'thunder and lightning' of Har Sinai as opposed to the words of the commandments themselves – for these instil fear of Heaven, which is the base of acceptance of individual mitzvos. But that is not our subject this week.

The first few psukim of the sedra speak about blessings and curses, as well as their causes. They contain several questions which need to be explained; 3 of which shall be pointed out. Firstly, there seems to be a constant switching between referring to Bnei Yisrael in the singular and in the plural. For example, in the opening pasuk, "re'eh" is in the singular, whilst "lifneichem" is in the 'you plural' construct. The same is true of (11;29) "attah" (sing) versus (11;31) "attem" (plural). Why this constant change? The second question regards the second pasuk of the sedra. The normal procedure upon introducing a blessing or curse is to say why the curse/blessing will come about, and then what the curse/blessing will involve. For example, our sedra's 3 rd pasuk (11;28) says 'the klala (lit 'curse') will come about if you do not listen to HaShem's Commandments.' However, the 2nd pasuk does not seem to say what will bring the bracha about; it says (lit.) 'The bracha that (' asher') you will listen to the Commandments of Hashem…' - what are we supposed do to get this bracha, and what exactly is it? The last question is that though there are references made to a bracha and klala, we are not told what they entail?

Rashi in the opening pesukim explains an answer to all of these last questions. He says that the 'asher' in the 2nd pasuk comes to tell us the reason for the bracha; ie the pasuk is saying that the blessing is on condition that we listen to the commandments. (Ikar sifsei chachamim) And the blessings and curses referred to here are those to be given on Mt Grizim and Mt Eival, as implied by pasuk 29. The question on this explanation, however, is (and the Ramban seems to ask this) that the opening pasuk tells Bnei Yisrael to see the blessings and curses given in front of them today, whilst those blessings and curses at Mt Eival &Grizim were not to be given until they crossed the Jordan; which was certainly not today? [One could answer that the groundwork for those blessings and curses is to be laid today, etc]

But perhaps another explanation can be suggested… (I later found something a little bit like this in the 'darash moshe')

There is a larger and more central question regarding blessings in general in the Torah; if we know that the spiritual path of a Jew is to pursue ruchniyus and not one of physicality and materialism, then the brachos given in the Torah should go something along the lines of "If thou shalt keep my commandments and harken to them, then thou shalt be given more chances to do mitzvos and to study the Torah." But, as we know, the Torah promises that eg rain shall fall in its correct time, crop shall grow, etc – they are all physical rewards. Why promise physical rewards if the goal is a spiritual one? The Rambam asks this question (hil. teshuva 9;1) and answers that the promise is that all our physical needs will be taken care of so we are free to devote our time purely for mitzvos and Talmud torah. [This is also the idea of the shmittah year, but not many of us are farmers any longer; can you imagine a proud mother-in-law saying 'I have one son who is a doctor, but I'm most proud of my other son the farmer...Hmmm!]. Based on this last point, we can suggest that this is the place in the Torah that the bracha is based on spiritual pursuit (and again aptly positioned given that this is the start of the mitzvos section which all involve physical acts, thus and definition of the whereabouts and perspective of the physical and spiritual in a Jew's life is crucial).

Perhaps, the bracha here is different – it is 'that we will listen to HaShem's Mitzvos' ie the bracha is one of spiritual growth. [This bracha being different to the others is implied by the fact that it does not say the cause of the bracha.] And the corresponding klala in the next pasuk starts from the words 'vesartem…' and this curse is that if we don't keep the mitzvos, we stray from HaShem's path. As the Targum (Devarim 7;25) translates the word "to'evas HaShem'" (lit. 'abomination of HaShem') as ' merachaka d'HaShem' – that which causes distance from HaShem. The point is that the greatest curse and thus greatest sin/toeva is that which creates a distance between us and HaShem; by us becoming less like Him in forsaking our spiritual growth path.

And this is a bracha for this world too; the Torah does not talk directly about the next world (that is a subject in itself). Fulfilling Mitzvos properly with the correct attitude here in this world and leading a spiritual path causes this world to be pleasurable too. The story goes that Rav Shach was once asked a question 'what is the point of continuing to learn Torah for many years when one can become a businessman and support the study of Torah - then one gets the reward in the next world for all the Torah he supports, [and will even gain the knowledge in Olam Habbah of those subjects learnt by those who he supported; R Kanievsky.] so what's the difference? Rav Shach responded; since if you continue learning you will have Olam Hazeh too!

Thus, the klala part ends off (11;28) with the curse that 'we will go after other gods that we don't know.' This seems funny – why does it make it any worse if we 'do not know' these gods; what is that doing here? The idea is that daas (knowledge) is inner intrinsic knowledge, as opposed to that which comes from working out things. For example, why does one know that they are human? Not because they look in the mirror and make a scientific calculation each morning and come to the conclusion that they are more like a human than a goldfish, (at least I don't!) but because they know it. This ingrained inner knowledge is called daas (R Tatz, amongst others). Thus, the curse of 'asher lo yedatem, (serving gods you do not know) [from the root daas] is that these gods are not part of one's intrinsic makeup, and thus not a part of who you really are, it is the result of 'straying from the path' mentioned in the first part of that pasuk.

But this keeping of mitzvos being pleasurable is dependent upon one's emunah and yiras shamayim; [as perhaps suggested by the positioning of this part between the yiras shamayim and mitzvos sections of the chumash.] If they are solid, then one gains a natural pleasure from doing mitzvos by the feeling that they are doing that which is correct. Perhaps this is one explanation for the switching in the first pasuk between the singular and plural. The lifneichem is plural, for the bracha is the same for each Jew – the ability to and indeed performance of mitzvos. But the re'eh (seeing) is in the singular, for how one sees and treats this bracha is up to each individual and their yiras shamayim (loosely based on the Kotzker Rebbe's explanation.)

Have a great Shabbes

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