Parashas Re'eh – Seeing is Believing
This week we have Parashas Re'eh which along with next week's Parashas Shoftim and the week after, Ki Seitzei, contain the majority of the commandments which are found in the book of Devarim. Up until now Moshe has given over commandments to love Hashem and to accept his oneness and has also spoken of fearing Hashem and the repercussions of transgressing against his Torah. This week's Parasha seems to put these previously mentioned requirements into perspective by stating that the choice between accepting the Torah and living by its ways or chas veshalom rejecting them and living a more exotic lifestyle is no more than... “a blessing and a curse” [11:26]. According to the Ramban this was Moshe's literal take on things saying that those who observed the commandments would be blessed and those who did not would be cursed. The Vilna Gaon also comes to support this view, stating that Moshe was offering the people advice that in each aspect of their daily life they would be faced with the choice whether or not to obey Hashem, this would therefore inclusively involve the choice of whether to bring blessing or curse, life or death upon oneself. Rashi however seems to disagree with these opinions and puts this statement down to the blessing and curse which would be later pronounced on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (In Parashas Ki Savo) which will be discussed then, Bezrat Hashem.

Moshe's statement of advice is introduced with the word “ראה/Re'eh” [11:26], “see” a word we don't see as an introduction to previous statements given over by Moshe, so we must ask, why the use of this particular word here? The Malbim brings down that this usage of the word “ראה/Re'eh” is because the blessing and curse described here by Moshe are not simply promises for the future but actually a visible property which exists amongst the Jewish people. He goes on to explain that one can actually see that people who observe the Torah have a sense of accomplishment, fulfilment and spiritual growth whereas those who go against it can be seen to live mundane lives which lack such achievement or satisfaction. The blessing and the curse is therefore there for all to see and in fact it is a common phrase amongst people working within the kiruv movement that one simple way of convincing a strayed Jew that he should be living a life based on Torah values is through 'two Shabbos's and one wedding'. Through 'seeing' the warmth and family orientation of a proper Shabbos meal or the purity of a Jewish wedding, one would immediately realise that keeping the Torah was the way forward and that the people who do so are blessed. On the flip side I would propose that the same can be said on the other side of the fence and through observing the drabness, emptiness and lack of spirituality within the lives of non-Torah observant Jews one could come to see that they would rather have the blessing than the curse. Through having this choice, Sforno proposes that Moshe was also pointing out to Israel that it was not like other nations. Such extremes exist for the Jewish people whereby the blessings they are promised for keeping the Torah are extraordinary and miraculous, as seen through their victories in the battles against the Canaanite nations. The opposite is also true however, with terrible ordeals and disasters facing us if we do not live up to our expectations. This blessing and curse can be seen quite clearly through time with the Jewish nation living lives of huge achievement at times, striving for great heights, certainly blessed... but also unfortunately we have experienced the curse of constant persecution and tragedy through the course of our history... maybe this is what Moshe meant by his introduction with the word “ראה/Re'eh”, “see”.

Moshe then goes on to reiterate to the nation the sanctity of the Land which they are about to enter and this perek contains commandments which have a particular relevance to Eretz Yisrael. This includes the repeated mitzvah to destroy the Canaanite idols which they would find when entering the land and also the interesting commandments based around making offerings on private altars and the laws pertaining to the consumption of redeemed offerings and unconsecrated meats. In amongst these commands we are reminded not to consume blood with the Torah stating that... “Only be strong not to eat blood, for blood it is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the meat” [12:23]. Chazal tell us that from the use of the lashon 'be strong' we can infer that there used to be a potent urge to eat (or drink) blood in those days which we of course had to avoid. It is brought down in various kabbalistic sources that the soul of a being is contained within its blood and it was therefore commonly used for witchcraft and other strange types of supernatural activities. According to Rashi in Parashas Acharei, it is because life is dependent upon the blood that Hashem designated it as the medium that goes upon the Altar for atonement offerings. It is also explained by the mefarshim that the reason we cover the blood of a slaughtered animal is because, since the soul resides in the blood, it is not proper to eat the flesh of an animal while its blood is exposed. We are of course extremely machmir on the prohibitions relating to blood today with Kosher meat going through various processes in order to 'drain' the blood from it... and just to note what you see dripping out of your 'rare' steak is not considered halachically to be blood. Anyway why are we going on this massive rant about blood... because after studying some of the commandments related to blood, unless you are a bit psychotic, I would expect most people to cringe a little at the thought of consuming blood and therefore question why we would have to 'be strong' to avoid it... surely this is one of the easiest mitzvahs in the Torah for us?... And that is exactly the point; the Torah is trying to relate to us how important it is for people to strengthen themselves in the performance of the commandments, for if Moshe had to use such a strong language to warn Israel against the consumption of blood, which is frankly repugnant, how much more so must people strengthen their resolve to avoid forbidden activities that are truly tempting!

Also brought down in this week's sedra are the commandments concerning a false prophet. According to the Ibn Ezra, its placement at this point is due to Moshe having warned the Nation against the temptation of idolatry and its practices, he now turned to the sort of phenomenon that could lead Israel to indulge in such madness. Obviously the danger of a false prophets is clear to see with a huge amount of blood shed from the false teachings of Mohammed and the man on the cross throughout history. The Torah specifically states that “he will produce a sign or a wonder” [13:3] which Rashi interprets as a supernatural event or a miraculous occurrence on Earth. According to Ramban this could also be a miracle which is foretold by the posing prophet. Another feature of this devious character is hidden within the language used by the Torah when it says “a prophet or a dreamer of a dream” [13:2], implying that a prophet might claim to have received his vision while he was awake or in a vision in a dream. Ramban comments that the Torah uses these terms figuratively regarding someone who never had actual communication from Hashem, but had some sort of spiritual potential that seemingly enables him to divine messages or to predict the future, thus making people believe he is a prophet. Whereas Moshe's prophecy was accepted because there were 600000 kosher witnesses (men above Bar-Mitzvah age) personally present at the revelation at Sinai (which works out at around 3 million people in total including women and children), the testimony of a false witness is usually based on one single person. We are taught that any later prophets who reveal 'signs', 'wonders' or 'revelations' are acceptable only if we are instructed by the Torah to believe them. Consequently the Rambam teaches that only prophets whose prophecies are in accord with G-d's laws are to be considered valid. The Moshiach will be one of these prophets who will work within the boundaries of the Torah and will therefore be accepted. What we see with Mohammed and the other famous one are clear-cut false prophets which the Torah accurately predicts through their behaviour and intentions. So why does Hashem allow such false prophets to come about? Well the answer is in the Torah... “for Hashem, your G-d, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem, your G-d...” [13:4]. An easy test to pass?

Wishing everyone a fantastic Shabbos and week ahead,

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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