Annually we read the challenge of parshah Re’eh and repeat it to our kids and each other often. The text of Deuteronomy 11 begins, “Hey, look (see)! I have set before you blessing and curse: blessing if you obey the rules … and curse if you do not obey the rules.” (Interpretation is mine.)
Some might say this appears to be too obvious. Look and obey. Follow the authorized regulations and all will be good for you. For the farmer, water will come to water the grass and the fruit trees. For the professional, a solid job and financial security. For the mother of children, their good health and successes.
Toe the line. Fear to challenge authority. Be careful not to move away from the established principles. In short, obey, do what you are told to do. And if you choose wrongly something negative, a curse, will befall you.
Maybe that should not be who we are today. Maybe looking behind or under the right path is more correct, honest or more proper?
This summer we are forced to look at our world differently. To many it appears to be upside down. Look at what is happening to our cities, our communities, our lives. See the fear, devastation by disease and poverty, the pain of disorder caused by the ill-tempered. Look at the rise in Jewish angst over the elevated levels of anti-Semitism. And see if some laws are possibly a cause.
Hey, look! See what is really happening! Follow the rules and choose life and blessing, OK, but do not fail to see the deeper meaning of the marching, the shouting, the billowing of tear gases, shattering of glass and breaking of lives. It is one thing to overlook what is going on — that is what we have called not-in-my-backyard. But what if it is in my backyard, or your backyard, or city, or community, or synagogue?
Maybe we are experiencing the curse resulting from rules mandated generations ago that no longer fit. Maybe some of society’s ordinances, rules and legal determinations need to be reviewed, not de facto accepted. Maybe our obeying will not yield blessing any longer.
Following the rules established by a majority is not the most positive technique for setting policy if it demeans or diminishes those in the minority. Not to look and see (and fail to correct) injustice primarily because it is the established ‘law’ is no longer a tenable excuse.
Too many “legal” precedents, rules meant to be obeyed, were set in historical periods where they were seen as moral and proper and were enacted. Some were not obeyed, and then after not being obeyed were overturned, but not soon enough. Kristallnacht, Apartheid, Jim Crow.
When we see, the anguish of today’s realities — the overheated planet, a world roiling with anger and pain from Covid-19 and other miseries — maybe choosing life and blessing comes from reviewing the rules of out-of-touch commands that were given to elected officials, law enforcement officers and communities. Hopefully our not obeying some rules will help us see positive changes. In this parshah Re’eh, we are given a choice to look and see, and then do what is righteous. We are shown how to make good choices, for blessing and for life. Ken yehi ratzon. So may it be. JN
Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz. D.D. is past president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, senior chaplain with the Scottsdale Police Department, a columnist for City Sun Times, and a hospital chaplain with Jewish Family & Children’s Service.