Thursday, August 17, 2017

Parashah Re’eh רְאֵה (See) Devarim 11:26-16:17

Parashah Re’eh  רְאֵה (See)  Devarim 11:26-16:17 

Rabbi Akiva is reported to have said: "Though everything is foreseen by Adonai, yet free will is granted to man" (Avot 3:19).    Which would be great if we weren’t so prone to mess up – even when we see.   
Parashah Re’eh begins with a warning, and a desperate appeal to obey the commands of G-d.
(רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה)  Re'eh Anokhi notein lifneikhem hayom, brakhah u'klalah “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.” Deuteronomy 11:26.  Israel is given instructions from Moses that if they obey the commandments they will be blessed, but if they choose to disobey they will be cursed.  It is then emphasised in Deuteronomy 12:28, “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee”     This is the most obvious and straightforward instruction.  Of course we will choose to be blessed.  Won’t we?
The plea to observe these commands is both a personal and community order.  Re’eh (רְאֵה – you see) is a singular word whereas lifneikhem (לִפְנֵיכֶם – before you) is a plural word.  This denotes that even though the request is personal the consequences will affect the whole community – either blessings or curses.  This is called arevut (עֲרֵבוּת), "mutual responsibility”.  Which brings me back to my first complaint.  Freewill is wonderful until we understand that we are relying on other people’s freewill also.    Sin affects the whole world.    Of course the flip side, is that when the community obeys G-d, the blessings are personal.   “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people”. Proverbs 14:34.
The parashah continues with instruction to kill anyone in their midst or even destroy cities who try to get Israel to serve other gods.     There is no middle-ground on this.  It was all or nothing.   Every part of us, all of our senses, are to serve the one true HaShem.  This parashah includes reference to all five senses.
Sight — chapter 11:26 — See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.  We should “see” the requirements and the consequences that will follow.  Our eyes are the window to the soul but also the way we relate to our community (so it’s personal and social).
Smell — chapter 12:13 — Take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like.   The odour of burning flesh is substantial.
Touch or Feeling — chapter 15:12 talks about setting Hebrew slaves free every seven years unless he/she loves you and is happy with you, in this case pierce his ear:
Hearing — chapter 12:22 — Observe and hear all these things which I have commanded you.  Can’t talk about hearing without mentioning the Sh’ma.  ‘Hear oh Israel’ !!!  Amen
Taste — Chapter 13:3 — Do not eat anything abhorrent.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34.8
The parashah then appears to contradict itself.  “But there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless you…” Deut. 15:4” and then states a few verses later, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” 15:11.   So which is it?   Are there poor people or not?
Rashi commented on the verse saying that as long as you fulfil the will of G-d, the poor will be among others, but not among you.   But if you do not fulfil the will of G-d, then there will be poor among you". Rashi, Deut. 15:4
This is interesting because Yeshua said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” Matthew 26:11.   Is this because he was comparing the two statements from this parashah?  Without Yeshua there is no complete obedience.  They were rejecting Him and thus rejecting the will of God which brings poverty.  They could have him ‘always’ or they could have poverty ‘always’.  Blessing or poverty.  Yeshua is the fulfilment of G-d’s will (Torah).  Or as Yeshua put it, “I have come to fulfil the Law” (Matthew 5:17 paraphrased).
On a side note: I recently read that a baby enters this world with closed hands, but enters the next world (dies) with open hands.  My consideration is that when we act with closed hands we are living as this world dictates, but when we have open hands to the poor as directed in Deuteronomy 15:11 we are acting dead to this world and living in the world to come. 
Besides giving to the poor, this parashah includes, cancelling debts, setting free slaves, dedicating the first born and tithing.   Each of these subjects is an essay themselves but the scriptures on tithing (Ma’aser) is up for great debate amongst Christian theologians who never take the time to read it in Hebrew.  Yes, there are three tithes mentioned in this portion of Torah:
 Ma'aser Rishon: A tenth of a farmer's produce was given to the Levite to support the priesthood and Torah teachers of Israel.  I have no problem with people tithing at church.   Having been in church for decades, I have been involved in so much debate about whether we are to do Law or not, but basically, yes.
 Ma'aser Sheni: A form of self-tithe to be used to rejoice the goodness of G-d, taken to the appointed place of worship (later Jerusalem) and eaten there. I had never heard this preached from the pulpit but I did an extensive research paper on it several years ago which suggests very strongly that this is also one of the “storehouses” that G-d commands a blessing upon in Deuteronomy 28:8
Ma'aser Anni: In the 3rd and 6th year, the Ma'aser Sheni was given to the poor instead.  The poor could then glean from the crops and enjoy the good of the land.
The parashah then commands in Duet 16:16, “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty”.  This is the Shelosh Regalim, the three major pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot. 

The parashah ends with a powerful statement.  “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee”.  Seriously, we just spent half a parashah describing what needs to be given and done and then the very last verse appears to turn it all on its head with ‘give as he is able’.  Why?  Because it is HaShem who makes us able. It is the blessings that He has given us.  He does not ask anything from us that he does not supply.   So to give to the poor, tithe, set slaves free, cancel debts and even the pilgrimages are a blessing themselves that we are ‘able’ to give and do because he has made us able.

Shalom Jon Eaton

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