Parashat Re'eh/ Elul
Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel, Yehudah ben Rachel, Miriam bat Rachel, Leah bat Rachel, Daniel ben Rachel, and Rav Eliyah Dov Ben Chavah Esther
Parashat Re'eh/ Elul
Just Look and See!
This week’s parasha opens with the passuk, “Re’eh anochi noten lefnehem hayom beracha u’kelala.” According to Hashem’s instructions, Moshe said to B’nei Yisrael, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” The parasha continues: “The blessing is that you observe the commandments of Hashem your G-d, that I commanded you today. And the curse if you do not follow the commandments of Hashem your G-d and if you stray from the path that I commanded you today and follow other gods [idols] that are foreign to you and that you do not know.”
Why does the Torah begin this parasha with the word “Re’eh,” which means “see” or “look?”
Hashem is telling us very plainly: Just open your eyes and look! The path is straight in front of you and it’s so obvious! Follow the Torah and Hashem’s commandments, and you will see so many blessings with your children and your family that will carry you throughout your entire life. The blessings and curses are not simply promises for Olam Habah. Rather, they are here for us to enjoy today in this world!
The Malbim comments on this verse, saying that if you just look and observe, then you can actually see that the people who follow the Torah’s commandments have a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. They have a sense of spiritual growth and physical enjoyment in this world.
The blessings are there for all of us to see and enjoy in the here and now.
Although most of us can see in a physical sense, we may be blind spiritually. Rabbi Twersky gives an example: Why would an intelligent person continue to smoke cigarettes, knowing as we do now all the negative effects of smoking? The answer is that we see only what we want to see, and we are blind to what we don’t want to see.
Just Try It!
This theory also applies to us as Jews, because although it’s so clear how wonderful and special a true Torah life would be, many people will unfortunately choose not to see it. From the outside it may look hard or burdensome, but when you’re in it and when it’s a part of your life, you can see how wonderful it really is.
I once heard an interesting analogy: A person may be able to carry one or maybe even two of those five-gallon bottles of water at a time, but it will probably be very heavy and difficult for him. But if he were to dive into a swimming pool, then no matter how enormous the load of water, he’d be able to handle it with ease. Not only would it be easy for him, it would be enjoyable. In the same way, a truly observant Jew enjoys a Torah life: it’s not difficult or burdensome in the least, because the spirituality and endless rewards of that life lift us up as the water in the pool would. It’s simply the most enjoyable and pleasurable life that one can have.
“The blessing is that you observe the commandments of Hashem (11:27).” According to the plain meaning, this phrase teaches us that the believing person who keeps the mitzvot feels content. He accepts everything that happens to him as the will of Hashem and is blessed with peace of mind, as opposed to the person who does not keep mitzvot, who becomes frustrated and disgruntled whenever things do not turn out the way he would like them to. Furthermore, the very fact that we are serving Hashem and keeping mitzvot instead of leading an animalistic existence pursuing vanities is a blessing in and of itself, even without the expectation of any other reward.
Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh says that apart from the reward that Hashem gives us for listening to his commandments and learning Torah, the sweetness and the inner joy that a person gets from learning Torah is in itself the greatest reward.
We say every morning in birkot hashachar, “Vhaarev na Hashem et divre toratecha—Please Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of Your people, the House of Israel. May we, and our offspring, and our offspring’s offspring (and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel) – all of us—know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His People, Israel.”
An End in Itself, or a Means to an End?
The Ramban presents another teaching on the blessing and the curse. All berachot are not a reward for good deeds. Rather, they are a means to an end, prerequisites for the performance of mitzvot and the fulfillment of Hashem’s will. The berachot in our lives, like good health, family, or prosperity, are given to us in order to enable us to obey Hashem’s commandments.
It’s not the other way around, where one might say, “I’ll pray and I’ll do the mitzvot so that Hashem will bless me and reward me with health, wealth, etc.” On the contrary, Hashem gives us peace and free time so that we may use it to pray properly and study the Torah. He gives us money so that we may give tzedaka to the needy.
Therefore, there is no excuse for straying from the ways of Hashem. The Torah says, “Do not stray from the path that I commanded you today, to follow other gods [idols] that you did not know.” The Torah is warning us not to get consumed by the outside culture of today, which is identical to idolatry, because it will eventually lead to our downfall, has veshalom.
Notice how the Torah uses the word “today.” The reason for this is that someone may say, “I have sinned so much, it’s too late for me to change my ways.” The word “today” indicates to us that it’s never too late for someone to repent and improve their ways.
This is another reason why this parasha is usually read when we’re about to enter the month of Elul and begin to prepare ourselves for the days of Judgment and Atonement: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the days, of course, where we approach Hashem for teshuva. It’s a time to elevate ourselves, to get closer to Hashem, to eagerly follow His commandments, and to make a plan for growing spiritually in the upcoming year.
“But this shall you not eat from among those that bring up their cud or have completely separated split hooves: the camel, the hare, and the hyrax, for they bring up their cud, but their hooves are not split — they are unclean to you; and the pig, for it has a split hoof, but not the cud — it is unclean to you (14:7-8).” The Torah’s listing of kosher and nonkosher animals, which seems somewhat technical, contains many lessons beyond the mere details of what we may and may not eat.
Rabbi Frand points out that this verse teaches us a lesson in how to view, and relate to, other people. The point of the verses listing the animals that have only one kosher sign is to teach us that they are not kosher. It would seem appropriate, then, to list the sign that causes them to be nonkosher first. Yet we see that the Torah lists them as the camel, the rabbit, and the hyrax, which chew their cud but do not have split hooves, and the pig, which has split hooves, but does not chew its cud. Why does the Torah list the kosher signs of these animals first if the nonexistent signs are what we really need to label these animals nonkosher?
A Midrash explains that the Torah is trying to teach us that even when something is not kosher, we should find a way to mention something praiseworthy about it first. Even something as taref as chazir—pig deserves to have its positive trait pointed out.
If the Torah does so for nonkosher animals, how much more do we have to learn to have this consideration regarding people?
Bosses, employees, children, students, coworkers, and neighbors will invariably have some negative traits. It might be our job, from time to time, to deliver a negative message. This Midrash is teaching us that even when we have to deliver a negative message to others — to tell them that they are “nonkosher” in some way — we should always find a way to point out their positive attributes or qualities first.
Forgive and Be Forgiven
With Elul approaching, it’s important to reconcile with friends, family, business partners, and others who we have unresolved issues with. The most growth comes from difficult challenges and the most meaningful experiences come with the hardest times. We must always remember that Hashem loves us like a father loves his children and forgive each other so we can get along like siblings and give Hashem pride.
Rabbi Yoel Gold told a story about a couple that was getting married in Israel right at the start of the pandemic. They decided to make the wedding quickly with just immediate family before Israel went on lockdown. Only 20 people came to attend. Right after the kedushin, the mishtarah—police showed up, saying they received an anonymous tip, and demanded that everyone evacuate the venue. They were afraid coronavirus would be transmitted so the police slapped everyone with a 5,000-shekel fine and sent everyone home, except the bride and groom, who were required to wait outside against the building in the cold.
Picture it: Tamar—the bride—in her wedding dress, David—the groom—in his tuxedo, were surrounded by police and soldiers with guns, shivering from cold. By the time the police let them go, the wedding was ruined, and the couple was in debt on their very first day as husband and wife. The couple tried their hardest to stay happy, to dance, to cheer each other up, to not cry. As much as they knew it was for the best, they were so disappointed and heartbroken with how the night turned out.
Seven months later, David got a phone call, and he was visibly upset after hanging up. His wife asked him, “What’s wrong?” He said, “That was my father. A young man in kollel contacted him to say that he was the person who gave the police the tip at the wedding, and he’d like to speak to us.” “Should we go?” Tamar asked. “I guess so… maybe it will help us come to terms with how our wedding turned out.”
They went to meet the boy. He explained to them that COVID-19 had just emerged in Israel, and he was extremely afraid of the new virus. He heard the music and assumed it was a big wedding, so he called to tell the police there was a party going on next door at the hall. Since that night, he felt a tremendous guilt. He was also in shidduchim and usually got calls with matches. Since the wedding, not one shadchan had called with a date, and when he reached out to matchmakers, he could not get set up with anyone. He knew he had to apologize to this couple. He tracked them down and was begging for their forgiveness.
The newlyweds, so traumatized from the event, told him they needed some time. After a few days, on Erev Yom Kippur, they decided that even though it was so hard, they would put it all behind them. They would forgive him. They called him, and the bochur broke into tears, crying, “I’m so sorry for what I did. Please forgive me.” The couple was emotional and accepted his sincere apology.
They went into Yom Kippur feeling so at peace, knowing that they overcame a huge challenge, and they felt comfortable asking Hashem for forgiveness when they did the same a few hours earlier.
The next day, while David was building the Sukkah, Tamar was driving to work, and she was in a bad car accident. Three cars plowed into hers. When David got to the hospital, the doctor walked into Tamar’s room and said, “Your wife must have G-d watching over her.” The whole car was completely totaled, except for the driver’s side! Not only that, but the airbag should have deployed on impact, and for some reason it didn’t. Tamar was newly pregnant and would have lost her child.
Tamar said, “Hashem must have had a sentence on me. And in His kindness, He orchestrated this whole situation with the wedding and having to forgive this yeshivah boy, for us to have the zechut, for me and my son to be saved. When we forgive Hashem’s children, Hashem forgives us. When we hold grudges, they weigh us down and they’re very hard for us. And when we forgive, we become lighter and happier, and we become better people for it.”
May we always follow in Hashem’s ways and His commandments which are only good for us in this world and will benefit us in the world to come. Especially now that we’re approaching the month of Elul when we must start to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we read in the story above, know that all the obstacles and challenges that Hashem sends our way are for us to grow in order to earn our place with the Shechina in Olam Habah!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
· How many times can you think of when you set out to do something but then the plans you made were changed because somehow you got involved with something else that you never expected and that you wouldn’t have done on your own if not for Hashem guiding you on that path which in the end you were glad that He did?
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