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Cantor's Comment - Parshat Re'eh                                  August 7, 2021 - 29 Av 5781

08/06/2021 01:59:56 PM


Look, we’ve all got to get vaccinated.  Of course, there are those that for medical reasons can’t get the shot, and perhaps there are others who may also have various legitimate reasons.  But any excuse that involves the words “freedom”, “safety”, or “microchips” are not legitimate reasons.  We are often very careful to avoid framing anything in black and white terms, as most of us understand that real life operates in shades of grey.  But sometimes, we’re simply given a binary choice, turn left or right, because those are the only ways the road goes.  Once in a while, life gives us what should be an easy choice between right and wrong, life and death, blessing or curse, and that’s just how our parsha this week opens.  Re’eh, look,

 אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם

 הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃

This day, I set before you a blessing and a curse.

In parshat Re’eh, we start really feeling how close we are to the end of the Torah.  The first word, Re’eh, means ‘see’, as in ‘see here’.  It’s like saying ‘here’s the bottom line’.  And Moses gives the people of Israel a simple choice – either commit to the principles of the Torah, which promises a life of meaning, devotion, holiness, wisdom and decency, or don’t, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Oddly, rather than fleshing out this message further, Moses switches gears almost immediately and proclaims that all altars may no longer be used to offer sacrifices, except for one, the one place that will be established for the entire Israelite nation to which all sacrifices must be brought.  That place, of course, would eventually become The Temple.  But it’s a rather odd segue after announcing such an ominous choice between a blessing and a curse, that is until we remember that Moses is not addressing us individually, but as a people.  We know this from parshat Bechukotai, way back in the book of Vayikra, where Moses teaches the Israelites that if they faithfully observe all of God’s commandments, that the rains will fall in their seasons, the land will provide for us, and we’ll all live in peace and security, and then we get a whole bunch of collective curses if the Israelites choose not to abide by the commandments.  This distinction between whether we are being addressed as individuals or as a people makes all the difference because Moses realizes that once we cross the Jordan river, once we conquer and settle the land of Israel and go our separate ways and lead our peaceful lives, how will we be held accountable to each other?  It makes me think of a bunch of college buddies who have just come home from an exciting month long road trip filled with all kinds of experiences that they shared together, and now, at the end of their adventure, they are about to go their separate ways.  One of them says to the group, let’s make sure we never forget each other and what we experienced together and make a pledge to get together once a year to reminisce over a couple of beers.  They begin a tradition, getting back together each year, keeping their friendship alive.  Through the years, as they get married their spouses join the club, then their children and grandchildren, gathering together in order to reflect and simply be in each other’s lives.  By abolishing all other altars, Moses is forcing the Israelites to remain committed at least to each other, if not the Torah.  That at least, on the three pilgrimage festivals the Israelites will gather once again as a people, just like they were once all gathered before Moses on the banks of the Jordan.

If we return once more to Moses’ opening statement, “look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse”, we see that Moses is saying, yes, the choice is a simple one, but I never said it would be easy.  It will involve rigor, setting aside your pride, putting others ahead of your own needs and aspirations—not easy things to do.  And so to help you out, we’re going to establish an institution that will help remind you that you are part of a bigger picture, a community that you can rely on, just as they rely on you.

The High Holidays are once again just on the horizon.  We don’t have a Temple anymore, and because of the pandemic, our shul, our Mikdash M’at, our own miniature Temple is a strangely empty building.  And that is exactly why we’re working so hard to build our virtual community, because even though we can’t be with one another in the same physical space, the fact is that as long as we continue to support one another, as long as we continue to rely on each other, we continue to be a community.  Rosh Hashanah is our big annual gathering, where bubbies and zadies, parents, children and grandchildren will come together to remember the ties we share as members of the Jewish people, and because we’ll be doing it from home again this year, we’ve got whatever kind of beer you like most.

Shabbat Shalom, and please, make sure that you and all of your loved ones are vaccinated.

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782