What is (are) the Jewish people commanded to “see” in this parsha?
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey…” (Deuteronomy 11:26-27, NJPS)
Parsha Re’eh is a well known collection of laws and statutes from the book of Devarim ranging from matters related to settlement of the land to purging idolatrous practices from the life of the community. The book as a whole indicates that what follows is a series of “words” or “matters” that are heard by the community, and spoken by the Lord, through Moses. So between the speaking and listening, where does the injunction to “See” fit in, and what are the people seeing? It could very well be that the word, re’eh (see), is being used idiomatically in the same way it is sometimes used in English: “Now, see here, you should…” Or, it may be that there is something else going on.
The standard interpretation of re’eh in this verse is that it refers primarily to the reward for obeying God’s commands (blessing), and the punishment for not doing so (curse). In other words, God is giving the Jewish people an option to be blessed or not, and to see what that difference looks like:
“Those Israelites who were not persuaded by hearing God’s commandments at Sinai, or by hearing Moses’ exhortations, are asked to see the difference that following God’s ways can make in one’s life.” (Etz Hayim, p. 1061)
The contributors to the Etz Hayim commentary are most certainly expressing something meaningful by this, but the fact remains that the Jewish people were being told all of this, and the illustrative component of what they were being told here is no different than any other set of Laws. The Etz Hayim commentary continues:
“The distinguishing characteristic of human beings…is our ability to choose the values by which we live.” (Etz Hayim, p. 1061)
This gets to the heart of the matter. What is different in this moment of Moses’ exhortation is that now, more than any other time, we were able to see that we’re being given a choice as well as where this choice will take place. This is more than the ability to see what the choice is; it is to come to see that there is a choice at all. As we peered into the distance to gaze upon the Land we were about to enter it became clear that the choices we would make would determine our success in that Land. The Land is not so much heard as it is seen. It is a place with great potential for life and joy, as well as death and sorrow. This draws in the totality of what we were told to re’eh (SEE).
A disturbing renewal of scorn in the larger world’s vision of the Jewish people has come in large part as a result of the choices of the State of Israel. This is not to say that rising international scorn is proportionally justified, but rather that our success in the Land is related to our right relationship to God; a relationship that is not strong in the State of Israel by and large. We must see that regardless of the disproportionate response to Israel’s short-comings, the Jewish people are not given the opportunity to justify failure to meet the requirements for blessing in the Land. Those requirements have been spelled out for us in the Torah. God has made it clear that they are a choice, but that the choice is between blessing and curse. May the Land of Israel become filled full with those who make the choice of blessing, so that there can be a swift end to the rising curse and a return of all Jews, especially Mashiach, home.