The tension between hearing, listening and seeing, looking are emphasized in the Book of Deuteronomy, especially in this week and last week’s reading. First, “our manta”: Shma! שמע Listen! Then, this week – Re’e! ראה. Listening is considered more internal; see – more external. We might think the Torah should be only about the “internal”, so spiritual, it would reject the material, outside world, and are proven wrong. Both are critical, like a driver of a car – he can’t do anything without the car, and the car can’t go anywhere without him.
The Or HaChayim (18th century – Morocco – Israel) suggests that in order to know how many blessings are in store for us in the Hereafter, we have to have a deep appreciation and success in this world: “If the person preaching the values of the Hereafter were not himself blessed with success in this life, his listeners would not believe him thinking that he consoles himself with something in the future because he had been unable to attain it in the here and now”… While we know that others might say, that the way to know the world to come is by avoiding this world, this is not the Jewish path. Whatever Hashem gave us that we can legally, by Torah law, enjoy, we can and we should.
Both – Shma & Re’e – שמע – ראה – are said in the singular form of the verb, which means they are spoke to everybody as one. Re’e is followed with a plural: “See, I set before you today the blessing and the curse..” (Deuteronomy 11:26). The word for “before you” is לפניכם lifneichem in the plural, before all of you, or – before each and every one of you, maybe to indicate that everyone has a different path where we can find blessing as well as curse.
The next verse opens with the word את הברכה “et habracha” (Deuteronomy 11:27). This את “et” is a seemingly useless, untranslatable Hebrew construct. The word appears before a specific direct object. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher, known as “Ba’al Haturim” (1269-, Germany – 1343, Spain) explains that because את “et” is made from א- ת alef & tav, the first and last letters of the alphabet, so will be the blessing, all inclusive. This parallels the description of the blessings in Leviticus 3:3-13, which begin with an Alef אם בחוקותי תלכו and end with a Tav – קוממיות.
On the other hand, the curse is introduced with the letters הא – וו – Vav & Heh – vehaklala (Deuteronomy 11:28). They parallel the curses in Leviticus (26:14-46) which (coincidentally 🙂 also begin with a וו – Vav and end with a הא – Heh. Vav & Heh are right next to each other, as if to let us know, Hashem would much rather shower us with goodness than subject us to bad; the “curse” is short and the goodness is so much greater, and goes on forever…
That this makes sense to us now, well, ok, maybe sort of. But how did someone write this hundreds of years ago, in times of pogroms, exiles, and already more than 1000 years after the Temple was destroyed with no end in sight? How did anyone believe it hundreds of years later and miles away (as this is brought by Rabbi Hayim David Azulay (the Hida, Jerusalem, 1784-1804)? Maybe it’s not only about “choosing good” but more that, choosing to see good.
Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Elul Tov from Haifa, Israel.