Taste of Torah: Re’eh 5780

Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17 (Triennial: 11:26-12:28)

Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5

Moses begins his address in this week’s parasha with what appears to be a clear choice: 

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: (27) the blessing, if you shall heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day; (28) and the curse, if you shall not heed the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). 

We see this language echoed toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, in parashat Nitzavim, when Moses lays out the blessings and curses in greater detail:

See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil. (Deut. 30:15)

The Kli Yakar, a prominent rabbi who lived in Eastern Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, notes that Moses’s language switches from singular (re’eh – see) to the plural (lifneichem – before you).  Rather than seeing this as a grammatical deviation, the Kli Yakar finds meaning in this shift. He says that a person should view the world as exactly half good and half wicked, and that each person should see in him or herself the possibility of tipping the entire world toward the side of good by performing a single mitzvah. That is why, Kli Yakar explains, Moses first speaks in the singular – so that each individual will see that the choice, and potential to influence the world, lies within them.

Rather than seeing the world in black and white terms, the Kli Yakar acknowledges the messiness of our reality. The fate of each individual, and of the entire world, is a result of the cumulative of our choices. This is an empowering message for our time, when it is easy to look around at the world and slip into despair, or when we wonder if anything we do now can repair past wrongs. The Kli Yakar suggests that each of our actions, no matter how insignificant it may seem, can transform the world for good. 

Shabbat Shalom umvorakh,

Wishing you a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.