The usual way a Sedrah and its companion Haftarah are discussed or commented upon is in either sweeping generalities or, by focusing on a particular aspect, verse or even on just one word and then by making an observation that provides insight or understanding that will offer readers a way for them to grow as individuals by making what they have learned a part of their lives.
The quintessential Biblical commentator Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 to 1105), clarified the meanings of words that were used in the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, the entire Babylonian Talmud as well as words used by certain commentators who came before him. He was a master at relating words and their meanings to other instances through out these Holy texts and his work enables us still to this day to appreciate the meanings of words and expressions that had evolved beyond recognition unless one had, as Rashi did, the knowledge of what the original meanings had been.
The objective of this investigation into the Sedrah of Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17) and its companion Haftarah, which encompasses a few verses from Isaiah, 54:11 to 55:5, is to bring what might be seen as a blending of both of the approaches described above to help readers from a wide variety of backgrounds gain as complete an appreciation of the Sedrah as possible. Moving from subject-to-subject and even verse-by-verse, we hope to provide clarification, illumination and, ultimately, understanding that we believe today’s readers require if their desire to fill in any blanks that might be left by the micro-focus of Rashi or by the macro-focus of those who write Devrai Torah (literally: “things concerning the Torah) or who deliver teachings or sermons intended for presentation in very limited time spans for the broadest possible audiences. We trust that such a comprehensive work will help readers at every level of familiarity with the text be able to comply with G-d’s Commandment to “teach them diligently to your children,” which can only be done if one studies them in the very same way; diligently, where everything counts, in short, to learn Torah like you never learned it before.
Parshas Aikev ends with the Maftir alleah presenting or stating what might be termed “the deal” or “the arrangement” or “the rules” … that “if the Jewish People follow the L-rd in the observance of the one overarching commandment, i.e. love the L-rd, follow in his ways and to cleave unto Him, then, wherever you go in the Land of Israel He will drive out all the tribes who are there and they will not bother you. (Deuteronomy 11:24-25)
Note: It does not say, “They will be driven away.” It just says that they will be “dispossessed and not be able to stand up against you.”
Putting that into perspective is important. Is that pronouncement of the L-rd only for then, i.e. “time stamped” for this initial entrance into the Land of Israel, or is it a pronouncement for all time? If it is just historical, then we might be able to learn from it for today. But, if it is without a “time stamp” then we had better learn from it, if we are to enjoy the life it outlines for us, i.e. a place to live without others going up against us and no fear of being confronted by others who might want to remove us from what had been their land.
It is with that clear proposal that Parshas Aikev ends and ushers in what are the specifics of the next part of the “deal,” “contract” or arrangement;” the fine print if you will.
It is not sufficient to just do the minimum; i.e. “love G-d, walk in all his ways and cleave unto Him.” More than that is needed. And, that is where our Sedrah, Re’eh, which can be translated as “Behold,” begins. (Deuteronomy 11:26) And, what a beginning it is. Does it need to say, “Behold?” Could it have just started with, “I set before you etc?”
“Re’eh,” the word, is perhaps better translated as “See.” “Behold” is perhaps an antiquated Old English style. But, it is more than just a kind of musical fanfare; “Ta Da!” It is far stronger than that; more like, “Pay Attention!” or “Alert!” because this is important. Then, why does it focus on just seeing and does not involve the other four senses?
The answer is probably obvious to most readers. But, just to make certain that we cover all the bases while, at the same time, not being insulting to any of the senses, let us review each of our senses and their relative values comparing each to the others. If we are unable to taste or smell very well or even at all, we can still get through life. We might need some help recognizing milk that is spoiled before we drink it; and we would miss out on the wonderment of the stinging taste of mint or of apple pie or for her favorite perfume or his favorite cologne. Not being able to feel would make us vulnerable to a wide range of dangerous situations; sharp things, hot things, extremely cold things, but we could still muddle through with only a modicum of difficulty. The loss of the ability to hear well or at all would take away music, warning whistles, car horns, our sweetheart’s voice, but we could function mostly on our own in our society. Blindness, on the other hand, is big. Blindness means Seeing Eye dogs; the kindness of strangers; no sunsets or sunrises; no driving; no looking at art; no looking at anything. “Re’eh.””Behold.” “See.” “Look.” At times like that, sight is the only sense that really maters.
Further on this theme, it says, “Re’eh,” “Look!” or “Behold!” and not “Veh-Re’eh,” which would translate as “And behold!” or “And look!” which would tie what is about to be said perhaps more closely to what was just said in Parshas Aikev.
The distinction is worth noting. The first concerns itself with one singular commandment made up of three interrelated ways of observing it: Love your G-d, walk in His ways and cleave unto Him. But, now, in Parshas Re’eh, He explains that those three separate commandments are really unified in one continual and ongoing action; that of “walking in all His ways.” “Loving G-d” is expressed apparently by doing so and “cleaving unto G-d” is likewise done by doing so. In Parsahs Re’eh, He clarifies that “following other gods that you do not know” is the antithesis of “walking in all the ways of the L-rd” and the ultimate “game changer” regarding the maintaining of a relationship with G-d. To have a relationship with G-d is apparently an all or nothing thing. There are no half measures.
It might appear that the L-rd is offering the deal of a lifetime but with a gun pointed at our head. However, that is really not the case. We are, moment-by-moment, always free to choose how we want to live our lives. The big picture is that we live in a world of people trying to feel secure and never really having a complete understanding as to why we are here at all; how we got here; and what we can do to insure our place in it in light of how complex and downright threatening and dangerous the world can be.
Left to our own resources, we might interpret the world as do those who feel that what or whomsoever is in charge needs to be appeased and playacted. They come up with a “give and take” kind of accounting system that translates to sacrificing things dear to themselves and destroying those things as a way to demonstrate to the powers over them that they do not understand, but mostly to themselves that they are subservient, nonthreatening and are trying to do what they can to keep the scales that they imagine exist in some way in balance. The ultimate sacrifices are of humans like themselves and even of their own children.
To sacrifice one’s own children, let alone anyone else at all, is clear evidence as to just how fearful and weak such beings must be in the face of nature left unexplained. But, this kind of morbid balancing act is not relegated to ancient history. One need only study the more popular religious beliefs of the day to discover how close to the surface such fearfully negative thinking about man’s plight on earth is believed to be. The brutality and the utterly barbaric notions that are clearly at the foundations of these supposedly modern day religious thinkers can be terrifying when one looks at them for what they are without the benefit of a politically correct public relations sanitizing spin to help mollify them.
That was the way it was at the time of the Bible and it is the way it is today.
It was the Jewish religion that came along then, as it does today, to offer an alternative to balancing man’s fear of the unknown by sacrificing the lives of the living as if that would lengthen their own lives by so appeasing a god or gods who they believe created the world in such an ugly and warped way as to call for such horrible acts.
Of course, the ultimate flaw in the “sacrificial accounting system” on which they base their actions is that they are actually sacrificing nothing because they own nothing; none of the things, animals, or people they kill and burn up that or who are in the world and available to them to overpower do not belong to anybody; certainly not to them, so their balancing act is a ridiculous one; completely meaningless. The only thing they get out of such actions is the thrill they may feel from the ceremony itself; which is just so much theatricality and nothing more.
Judaism comes, instead, to offer life and the living of it with a grand and meaningful purpose; Tekun Olum”, to perfect the world as it was left for us to do. And, ipso facto, in doing so to effectively and, hopefully, in a very real way, replace the primitive and barbaric sacrifice-based belief systems that keep people trapped in their baser nature and focused almost entirely on death, dyeing, guilt and punishment. Why on earth would anyone want to live their life centered on such deprivation, pain, anguish and misery?
Fear is an amazingly strong motivation. Whether desire, which is perhaps the opposite driving force within us, can counteract the darker ideas we might have when transfixed by our own fears is possibly what fuels the great internal conflict with which we each live and to which every moment eventually comes down.
That dilemma of choice is the ramp up to the choice that is presented at the beginning of Parshas Re’eh, which ought to get the all-time award for “choice presentation dynamism” if there ever will be one: Curses on one mountain and Blessings on another. Follow my rules and all will be well. Fail to follow my rules and things will not go well for you. All this, while looking across from one bank of the Jordan River to the other and followed by a detailed list of landmarks that the Children of Israel will pass on their way to the Promised Land. This presentation of the choice of a lifetime extravaganza concludes with a big finish; a reiteration in the form of an admonition: “follow the rules that He set down today.”
Something is always lost in translation. Even if the translation we choose is accurate, it is more than likely that it will fail to convey the feeling that the L-rd apparently was trying to transmit. Even through this first paragraph (Deuteronomy 11:26-32) is reporting what was said to the Children of Israel, who were facing the Promised Land, it could easily be interpreted that the narrator, G-d, is speaking directly to us today as individuals; one-to-one; not unlike the way, “lehavdeel” (which means: “to make a distinction” between the Holy and the profane) a politician such as the late President of the United States Lyndon Bains Johnson (1908 to 1973), who would put his arm around a Senator and offer some fatherly advice about how he felt the legislator ought to vote on a certain issue.
Deuteronomy Chapter 11, verse 30 – The description here is almost like the kind of algorithms that drive a GPS (Global Positioning System) to help us know exactly where we are. The references to certain landmark places are as complete as they could be. Now, why would the Torah feel the need to so carefully locate where this choice of a lifetime is (read: was) taking place? The Torah is doing what it can to rivet home the importance of what they were (read: we are) facing.
From the point of view that the locale in which this was taking place, Moreh [מוֹרֶה], has historical significance; i.e. it was where Father Abraham had built an alter to the L-rd since at that time the Canaanites were in the Land and it was in Moreh where the L-rd told Abraham that “to your offspring will I give this Land” (Genesis 12:6-7) thereby identifying it for the then current day descendants and, really, for any of his descendants should have profound effect; get their (read: our) attention to make sure that they (read: we) would pay attention to the significance of what was going on then and now.
Deuteronomy Chapter 11: 31 … וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֹתָהּ, וִישַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ.” And you shall posses it and dwell there in.” The Rav, Joseph Ber (Yosef Dov, Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik (1903 –1993) notes the difference of opinion between opposing views of this verse between The RaMBaM, (Mosheh ben Maimon also referred to as Moses Maimonides, 1135 or 1138 to 1204) and The Ramban (Nahmanides also known as Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi (1194 – 1270). The Ramban does not include it in his Safer Ha Mitzvot (Book of Commandments) even though he does praise those who live in the Land of Israel. Though the Rav does not come down in favor of either The RaMBaM’s or The Ramban’s point of view, it should be pointed out that the reading of the phrase can be understood in two distinctly and different ways: One, that it is indeed a commandment for Jews to possess and to dwell in the Land, or, Two, that the L-rd is simply stating what will prove to be a fact later on and, depending on how well the Jewish People continue to remain in the L-rd’s good graces, will inhabit the Land after being expelled now and again; i.e. more of an historical prediction or announcement as opposed to a commandment.
When we consider it carefully, if it were a commandment, i.e. “you shall live in the Land,” it would preclude living elsewhere, which would be clearly an impossibility, particularly knowing what we know now of the history of the Jewish People, i.e. that they as a people were subject to being expelled from the Land were they not deserving enough remain there because they followed other gods (small “g”). So, a commandment that you shall live or dwell in the Land would not correspond accurately with the conditional aspect of the rules G-d set down elsewhere in the Torah; i.e. in the three paragraphs we include in the Shama Yisroel.
Though The Rav continues to demonstrate The RaMBam’s focus on this area of apparent ambiguity; i.e. that the RaMBaM does not include as a mitzvah ”And you shall posses it and dwell there in,” The Rav sites the mitzvah of “eradicating idolatry from the entire Land” as an important part of the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land. The Rav also discussed The RaMBam’s focus on the building of the Holy Temple, which The RaMBaM does include in the Book of Mitzvos. (Deuteronomy 12:5).
The Rav points out several other ways that The RaMBaM relates various commandments dealing with what will be done when the Jewish People dwell in the Land, but still, he does not come down on the side of going against The RaMBaM’s failure to include, ”And you shall posses it and dwell there in” as one of the positive commandments.
One of the connections mentioned is the building of the Holy Temple. It is here where The Rav makes an observation that helps bring the relationship between us and G-d into much better focus than it often may seem. It always seems like a very difficult thing to connect with G-d; some kind of deep mysterious process that one has to go through in hopes of making the cataclysmic leap from our side to His. But, The Rav seems to indicate that experiencing such difficulty in connecting with the L-rd is really not necessary at all. According to The Rav, quite the opposite seems to be the case.
The Rav explains how in Tanach (The Bible in all its three major parts; Ta = Torah (the Five Books of Moses); Na = Neve’eem (The Prophets) and CH – Kasooveem (The Writings), the concept of idolatry is often described as it is in Sedrah Re’eh, Deuteronomy 12:2, “On high mountains and on the hills or under every verdant tree.” So, to find and connect with false gods one must go to all sorts of extremes; climb mountains; look in all sorts of dark and mysterious places and the like. The availability of G-d to the Jewish People is described much more simply as,”You shall seek out His presence and come there.” (Deuteronomy 12:5).
Today, we see it when congregants in certain temples and synagogues, in their effort to connect with G-d, go through all sorts of machinations while reciting the Shama Yisroel (the Hear O Israel declaration). People cover their eyes, assume certain poses that say to anyone who might be looking, but mostly to themselves, “I am in my prayerful meditation mode“ and they chant the words in unison with the rest of the congregation following a spiritual leader who is going through his or her own similar set of actions as if doing all this kind of thing really works; and as if to say that this is the way that it works to the exclusion of all other ways. But, the Sedrah Re’eh is here to tell us that to connect with G-d is much easier than all this supposedly effective acting out is trying to portray. “Re’eh.” “Behold.”
All the “fancy footwork” involved in this communal chanting and fomenting may be theatrical and entertaining and may even make those who do it feel good but, according to The Rav, such extra effort seems to be more along the order of “seeking other gods” than the one G-d who walks among us and who is ready to connect at any time with none of the melodramatic “mumbo-jumbo” that probably does more to keep us from connecting to G-d than the other way around.
The Rav explains that things are just as simple as reaching out to a neighbor to find and to connect with the Lord. The Sedrah in Deuteronomy 12:5 לְשִׁכְנוֹ תִדְרְשׁוּ which is “His habitation shall yea seek” which also means “neighbor” which is to say, one who lives close by. The word translated as “seek” is also “study” and “investigation” and “research,” The Rav says that this is here to tell us that any of us, even the newly initiated, can simply open a book, such as the Talmud or the Torah and begin to study and in that act itself, the communication to and with the L-rd will begin.
We tried this out on an old friend of ours; ninety years old actually, and he reported that when in his synagogue he is singing the Shema Yisroel and the three paragraphs along with the rest of the congregation and the clergy, he gets a wonderful feeling of spirituality. When we asked what percentage of the congregants chanting the Shema Yisroel and it accompanying three paragraphs understood what the words in the three paragraphs mean or if they paid any attention to the translation other than the phrase Shaema Yisroel itself, he answered, “Maybe one percent at most.”
So, the feeling he gets is really what it is about. He feels part of the community and likes it more for its entertainment value than for connecting to what the words of the Shema Yisroel are saying or what we are saying when we recite them.
But, when one studies the words of the Shema Yisroel, clearly the extra values, such as the communal singing and the nice feeling our friend gets from it, are pasted on and, in our opinion, can work in opposition to the intended purpose. The purpose is to connect to the Lord by reminding one’s self of the commitment being asked of us by G-d and His reciprocal commitment He makes to us in return. What chanting a la the communal approach with no attention paid to the meaning yields is a congregation of people who follow their leaders at the most superficial level devoid of what the words they are chanting mean. In the end, it is an infantilizing experience that shows the leaders to be able to connect to G-d and leaves the congregation to emote their way to that level. That is fine if that is really all one wants. But, is that really all a person would want? One would hope that people would want more than ephemeral feelings and entertainment, like theater of involvement, and, rather, gain the knowledge of the words they are chanting in order to own them independently so that any time they want to say them they can do so on their own and know what they are reading means and, hopefully, to mean what the words they are chanting are saying.
In the next verse following the L-rd’s informational declaration that “you shall inherit (the Land) and you shall dwell in it,” the Torah informs the Jewish People further (Deuteronomy 11:32) “and you shall observe to do all the statutes and the ordinances which I set before you this day.” Again, this can be seen as a commandment or as what is more likely a declarative statement by the L-rd, who knows the future and, therefore, knew that there would be those Jewish People who would do just that; who would observe the statutes and ordinances, which He had set before them and before all of us; even until today; i.e. in perpetuity.
That is exactly what we are supposed to be reminding ourselves to do when we recite the Shema Yisroel, or when we “kiss a Mezuzah” when leaving or entering a dwelling or buildings with mezuzahs on the door posts or; when we teach our children about these subjects. It is not complex or particularly spiritual needing great concentration and huge leaps of faith and mysterious and deeply moving efforts, such as the ones described above that are so popular in certain temples and synagogues these days.
Regarding Deuteronomy 11:31, הַיַּרְדֵּן עֹבְרִים אֶת כִּי אַתֶּם “For you are to pass over the Jordan River … etc.”
Rashi is not at all concerned about this verse being a commandment to the Jewish People or not. Rather, Rashi explains that the miracles connected with the Jordan River would be clear signs to the Jewish People that they (read: we) would inherit the Land.
It is as if the L-rd is saying to us, “I know you are not going to believe this, but here is proof that you will inherit and live in the Land.” So, a commandment to live in the Land, it is not. It is simply the L-rd informing His people that living in the Land will be part of their experience.
The remainder of the Sedrah Re’eh seems to use the Ten Commandments as a kind of outline where each of the major areas of concern covered by the Decalogue becomes a focal point around which hypothetical situations are introduced and the acceptable and expected ways of dealing with such eventualities are presented as veritable “marching orders” by G-d to His people.
Deuteronomy 12:1 to 16:17 begins what amounts to a virtual “Triptick” (if anyone remembers what that is) of what the Jewish People can expect once they cross the Jordan River and enter the Land and how to react when faced with situations and temptations that might draw them away from their chosen path of life; that is to say how to control themselves from any tendency they might have towards following other gods.
Of paramount concern to the L-rd were the installations and paraphernalia related to worshiping the gods followed by the Canaanites. There is no quarter given by the L-rd for anything of this nature and He directs that everything connected with the gods of the Canaanites is to be eradicated.
It should be noted that while their religious beliefs were to be removed completely from the Land, nothing was to be done to the Canaanites themselves, save that they would not confront the Jewish People in any way.
The Torah points out that this type of decimation shall not be done to the L-rd. Deuteronomy 12:4 – הלַ כֵּן תַעֲשׂוּן לֹא “Ye shall not do so unto the L-rd your God.”
One might think that to even make such a statement would have been unnecessary. It would seem fairly obvious that eradicating evidence of the L-rd Himself would be counter productive. But, more than that, why or how could it be an issue at all? There was no presence of anyone in Canaan who would have established anything that would represent the L-rd. To what could the Torah be referring by making this statement?
It is pointed out by various commentators that this verse, Deuteronomy 12:4, serves as the basis for the custom to preserve rather than to destroy things relevant or related to or representing the L-rd such as worn out prayer books and Torah-related books that need to be taken permanently out of service. Rather than merely disposing of them or burning them, the custom has become to bury such items in sacred ground such as in a cemetery.
But, as convenient as it may be to base such a respectful and reverential practice upon such an interpretation of this verse, we are still left with a need for why such a statement is needed at this point in the Torah. Deuteronomy 12:4 is a short verse and can easily be read through and passed over without paying much if any attention to it at all. But, when one pauses to consider what it is saying and the circumstances surrounding it, it must stop one cold to search for an answer and to see what there is to learn from it. But, if it is without a “time stamp” then we had better learn from it, if we are to enjoy the life it outlines for us, i.e. a place to live without others going up against us and no fear of being confronted by others who might want to remove us from what had been their land.
Perhaps the verse is not coming as a commandment but rather as a matter if fact: Deuteronomy 12:4 – הלַ כֵּן תַעֲשׂוּן לֹא “Ye shall not do so unto the L-rd your God.” That is, no matter how you might try, you will not be able to destroy or wipe out the L-rd your G-d.
The Torah continues in Deuteronomy 12:5 and onward with a focus on where the permanent Holy Temple will be located and how it will be used. Time is taken to clearly distinguish between being outside of the Land, which will be inherited and being in the Land. See Deuteronomy 12:13-14.
Then, from that macrocosmic vantage point, the Torah stops to visit some of the microcosmic areas that are clearly of great concern to the L-rd with regard to the way we conduct our lives.
Of specific interest is Deuteronomy Chapter 12 verse 16 where, after explaining that His people may eat animal flesh outside sacrificial contexts but not the blood of those animals, we are directed to pour it, the blood, on the ground as water.
We could just leave it at that with regard to the restriction against eating the blood of animals that we are allowed to eat, but to know why that restriction was put in place, or why it might have been, could be a worthwhile thing to do.
Genesis Chapter 9 Verses 2 to 4 to Noah:
3- Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. 4 - Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
Rashi clarifies things for us. Underlying this are some basics. As all animals, we must eat to live. Unlike the rest of the animals, man has certain limits imposed upon him that help distinguish him from all the other animals; i.e. that which makes us human beings as opposed to barbarians. So, as much as one needs to eat to live, and knowing that anything that moves on the earth is available and permissible to Noah as food, eating anything that was still alive while it was being prepared for being eaten is forbidden to man to eat. Rashi uses the phrase, “Aiver Min Ha Chai” (in Hebrew) which translates roughly to “Flesh (literally a limb [cut off] from a living animal” is forbidden.
Ten generations earlier, Adam and Eve were permitted to eat each and every example of vegetation but not any of the animal life on earth. At this juncture, after the flood that killed all of mankind and all the animals that walked on the earth, save for Noah and his family, and except for those animals saved on the ark and all of the fish in the sea, G-d changes the rules by permitting man to eat other animals.
But, the caveats associated with how or under what circumstances man would be permitted to eat other animals are also established to help man appreciate and understand his position in the world by drawing clear limits to the expression of what is apparently his own innate tendency towards acting like an animal. That is to say, that the way animals will eat one another is as per their nature with no concern for the object of their need for food; i.e. whether their prey is alive or dead, an animal will start to eat it to satiate its own hunger and to, thereby, sustain itself. Following the flood, which can be seen as a kind of correction in G-d’s original plan for man, from the time of Noah and onward, man is required to make absolutely certain that an animal is dead before he is to permit himself to eat it. The essence of that process is the draining of that animal’s blood from its body since without its life blood an animal will die.
The Torah does not give a reason for the L-rd ‘s making this commandment for mankind to follow but one can see where the L-rd must have learned something about the nature of what He had created when He created man. The L-rd must have seen that as noble as His effort to bring about a being that was in His own image but still solidly rooted or anchored on earth, there was clearly an aspect of man’s nature that smacks of the beastly and which needs balancing.
Having seen the results of the way the generations of and before Noah had treated animals, G-d chose, apparently, to broaden His approach to what man was to eat but used it, at the same time, as a line of demarcation to distinguish between man, the animal, and all the other animals.
Let us review.
G-d created man, for whatever reason, with free will. Whatever commandments G-d might establish, negative or positive, it would still be up to man to comply with them or not.
Adam and Eve were given two commandments by G-d.
- “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Genesis 1:28. However, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, also known as the Ba'al ha-Turim as well as Rabbi Yaakov ben Raash (Rabbeinu Asher), about 1269 to about 1343, in his book the Aruch Ha Shulchan Even Ha Ezer 1:2 understands this verse as a blessing and not a commandment.
- “And, the L-rd G-d commanded the man, saying but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for the day that thou eatest there of thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:16.
Eventually, Adam and Eve prove to be unable to keep their hands off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and find themselves out of the Garden of Eden … but not dead. Or, is it possible that it may have been G-d’s plan that Adam and Eve were to live forever as long as they kept G-d’s commandments. But, having broken the rules, G-d’s initial intention to allow them to live forever was no longer in His plans. So, in that sense, they would “surely die” where, before, they would have lived forever; i.e. they would surely die as stated; just not right away.
In the ten generations stretching from Adam and Eve to the people living at the time of Noah, man, save for Noah and his family, seem to have evolved, or at least showed them to be less than what the L-rd had wanted them to be. So much so, that the L-rd decided to start over again with Noah and his family and the animals that Noah saved on the ark, which he built to the L-rd’s specifications to ride out the storm and the flood that followed.
It was as if the L-rd was trying to create something that was, (please pardon the following expression), beyond His capabilities. G-d, being perfect and all powerful, could conceive of and create a perfect world. But, once the L-rd includes man, a being with free will, His ability to control man, beyond merely ending his life, is in a sense, out of the L-rd’s control. So, at the point when mankind is living like animals, cohabitating with them and being no different than the animals themselves, G-d decides to stop things where they are and to try again to create “the perfect imperfect man” by taking what he has in Noah and his family, with all their limitations, and to offer them a revised, or as our marketing masters of today might term it, a “new and improved” world with new rules that will hopefully allow man to evolve and develop into the man the L-rd is hoping for him to be; somewhere between what the L-rd Himself is but within the framework of a life lived on earth.
As the Sedrah of Re’eh touches on the subject of man being permitted to eat meat but with the key framework of making certain that the life blood of the animal to be eaten has been drained from that animal before we consume it, the entire evolution of humans until that point is brought into sharper focus for us.
We recall it took ten more generations after Noah before a member of mankind rose above what was commonplace for the ways that humans lived their lives. As Abraham evolved as the first Jew and developed an understanding that G-d exists, connected with G-d and established a covenantal agreement with Him, mankind took a giant step forward from merely living from day-to-day, to having a higher purpose; i.e. that of perfecting the world as it was given to him (read: “us”) to do; which in the parlance of the day is summarized in the phrase “Tikkun Olum.”
Part of the promise that the L-rd made to Abraham involved a 400 year period of slavery for Abraham’s descendants, which, as the Sedrah of Re’eh unfolds, is coming to an end. Now, perched on the verge of entering the Promised Land, the Land promised to Abraham and his descendants, the L-rd now reminds us that the essence of our being depends not on who we are but on how we conduct ourselves.
And, it begins with the basics; what we eat and how we go about eating it; i.e. eating like animals or eating like people. So, perhaps a new phrase to consider would be: “We are how we eat.” Either just tare off a piece as the animal goes by, so to speak, or put an end to the animal’s life completely and then removing its life blood before preparing and eating the meat of that animal.
So, as the Jewish People stand on the threshold of entering the Promised Land, the L-rd chooses to reiterate key elements of what is expected of them both collectively as a people and individually. Everything is important; for those at that time and for each of us in every generation going forward.
Deuteronomy 12:28 states:
“Observe and hear all these words which I command you that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever; when you do that which is good and right in the eyes of the L-rd your G-d.”
And, as if to underline or otherwise emphasize just how important this area of concern is to the L-rd, the Torah cautions us that even as things go well when the current inhabitants of the Land are defeated and made to step aside to allow the Jewish People to live in the Land, to beware not to even wonder about what these people did regarding their religious practices lest you be tempted to experiment with those religious practices and get caught up in the way of those people. The Torah concludes with this cautionary pronouncement reminding us that what these people did was an abomination to the L-rd and that these people even burnt their own sons and daughters in fire as part of their worshiping their gods.
Why would the Torah feel it necessary to make such a warning? How could anyone … THAT IS JUST IT. Those people who were and are believers in child sacrifice, let alone human sacrifice, and all other means of horrible practices, trace their roots to the same person who we all do; to Noah, who traces his roots back to Adam. The same tendencies to think and act barbarically exist in us today and need to be recognized and dealt with accordingly.
The “accordingly” part is what Judaism is intended to address. Clearly, from history, we know that left to his (read: our) own resources, man will follow other gods and do terrible things. The L-rd offers us a set of commandments to follow which, if observed will make staying in His good graces as easy as can be, well, easier at any rate than trying to do so with no such path to follow and entirely on our own.
Deuteronomy Chapter 13:1 makes a quick but important declaration dealing with all of the Torah. “With regard to all that the L-rd commands for you to observe, you shall not add anything to them and do not diminish from them.”
Now, the sages and wise men and rabbis have, over time, established what are referred to as “fences” around certain commandments, but the wise men and the rabbis do not consider this to be adding or subtracting.
If we think back to Abraham, who was the first Jew and his sons and their families and how they lived their lives with no Torah and none of the statutes and directives to follow, we might wonder if they had it easier or harder to be Jewish than we, who have the Torah and its many commandments. What made it so necessary for there to be a Torah when those first Jews seemed to find their way through life as Jews without it; or who were able to observe it innately; on their own?
Suffice it to say that each of us needs to be knowledgeable about what the Torah teaches and the difference between those teachings and what others who came after have interpreted those teachings to mean. Ignorance of the law is said to be no excuse. That goes for Holy Law as well; perhaps more so.
But, just because someone says something is the law does not necessarily mean it is so. It is really intended that each of us become directly and intimately familiar and knowledgeable with what the Torah says and to gain our own personal appreciation for it and to act in his or her life accordingly; and not just follow what others have established as the correct way to go. To do so; to follow others blindly without knowing and understanding the basis for what one is doing it, could leave one open to following in the way of false gods since one is just following and not knowing and understanding.
In this day and age of religious freedom, it is difficult to imagine a time when the Christian majority could and did require Jews in their community to attend a lecture during which they were subjected to oral arguments, to which they were not permitted to respond, which presented the rightness of the Christian faith and tried to attract the Jews to convert to it using any and all means including threats to their very lives. That was the practice in Rome, Italy until the 1800’s. The poet Robert Browning, (1812 – 1889), wrote a piece entitled “January 7 Holy Cross day” detailing what that experience must have been like for the Jews of Rome and how they resisted the conversion efforts by their Christian neighbors.
The Torah warns that such “other gods” could come from right inside one’s own family and that as hard as it will be to resist the invitations of one’s own family members, resist one must.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 13 Verses 7-12, the consequences for those who get caught up in worshiping other gods is death; very serious. And, it is explained that the transgressor’s own family members are supposed to be the first ones to strike to kill such a one who worships other gods and then followed by the rest of the community; very serious indeed.
Nothing in the Torah indicates however that the justice system be ignored. A trial would have to be held. Only when proven guilty and sentenced to death would the requirement that one’s own family be the first to throw stones to execute the transgressor; the follower of other gods.
It is important to concentrate our attention on these verses for a moment, since it was these verses that could and did become the anchor for what was surely not the L-rd’s intention when setting them in place.
The commentators point out that the “word” must come to them; i.e. Deuteronomy 13:13 תִשְׁמַע כִּי “you shall hear … ”, which they take to mean not to seek out instances and, thereby, turning the dealing with it into a vocation. Now, in more modern times, first with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919 and which went into effect in 1920 prohibiting the production, transport and sale of (though not the consumption or private possession of) alcohol illegal, and which resulted in the creation of a two-pronged industry – bad guys supplying liquor around the law and good guys enforcing the laws of prohibition to great fanfare and giving themselves a way to make a dependable living. More currently still, with the advent of the legalized sale of marijuana, which is spreading across the country rapidly to where the drug law enforcement industry will need soon to be repurposed as the prohibitions against drugs in general moves further and further towards becoming obsolete.
The problem was stated here, in Parshas Re’eh, when man’s nature was still just becoming known for what it is. In Deuteronomy 13:13-19, the Torah turns from individuals to entire communities of people who have turned to other gods and what must be done in the Land when the Jewish People learn of their existence. The Jewish People are to investigate thoroughly and, only when they determine that the community of people in question is indeed made up of worshipers of other gods, are they to smite the people with the sword and destroy everything in their city.
Deuteronomy 13:18 is one verse that we would do well to study: “And do not allow anything (even the smallest thing) to attach itself to your hand. But, it might also be translated: Do not allow yourself to be infected by anything from that which was destroyed for the sake of, or perhaps better, in order to insure that the L-rd (that is the compassionate side of G-d) will turn (away) from the fierceness of His anger (literally, from the anger that is in His face or in His nostrils) and show you; literally, give you mercy and have compassion upon you, and multiply you, [literally, to make you many or to make much of you] as He had sworn to your fathers to do.
So, why two expressions to tell us one thing; to show or give you compassion or mercy and then immediately; really almost in the same breath, and have compassion upon you? Is this mentioning of compassion and mercy and then a mention of it again just for emphasis or is there more to it than that?
Let us try to put this into perspective. What seems to be of paramount importance to G-d is that man, despite all his mortality and innate limitations, or perhaps we should call them tendencies, to do things that are divine in nature even if they are not divine in fact; only G-d can be divine and only His actions can be so. Perhaps that is why He created the world in the first place. And therein lies a story that may mean something here as well. Apparently, there was at least one other world created before this one. Apparently, striking upon the right configuration for man – qua man – is not just a matter of causing it to come into being. It is, after all, almost or is precisely creating a logical impossibility; a being that enjoys or has all the free will of the L-rd Himself set in a worldly universe that allows him to do things that the L-rd would never expect or hope for him to do; i.e. to loose track of where he is, of who is in charge, and, Heaven forefend, worshiping other gods.
G-d is right of course. It makes absolutely no sense that man would somehow come to the mistaken belief that certain forces, or even beings, are out there controlling things on earth that might, and do, affect man and, therefore, it would behoove man to pay homage to such a being or beings and, in so doing, to let his own mind flow to notions and activities that are abhorrent in every way and yet to still do them; even to the extent to slaughter other men and women and, unbelievably, even to slaughter their own children to appease these other gods.
When man acts in this way, it is enough to really get under G-d’s skin. (Figuratively, of course.) Beyond disappointing; such actions riel G-d to almost no end. When man started to take the world G-d had created for him too far down the wrong path, G-d saved out Noah and his family and destroyed everyone else in order to start all over again.
So, here now, on the verge of entering the Promised Land, G-d is doing what He can to impress upon the Jews that what their mission will be once they are finally home in the Land of Israel.
It is natural that part of His instructions would include what to do with those “nations” (read: groups of people) who are not worthy of living in the world G-d created for us; for mankind; because they do not value life and demonstrate their lack of this basic component required to stay in G-d’s good graces, they worship other gods and sacrifice human beings to them.
Once His instructions are clearly delineated, He warns the Jewish People not to somehow allow themselves to become effected by the very evil that they are tasked to abolish and destroy. That is where Deuteronomy 13 verse 18 comes in and why the understanding of the language G-d uses is so important.
The anger that is described is that of the anger that people can understand when they get so enraged that, literally, their nostrils flare open as if fire will come blazing out of them. Yeah! That kind of anger.
So, with that in mind, G-d is telling His people, the Jewish People, that while He is seething because others of His creation needed to be destroyed because they could not control their natural tendencies and allowed themselves to follow other gods, that He wants us to be careful – extremely careful – and not allow even the tiniest bit of association with those who failed and needed to be destroyed to somehow effect them and cause them to fail in similar ways.
That warning is expressed in hopes that surely the L-rd is hoping will encourage us, His people, to heed His words. That context is the reminder that as different and as frightening as life seems to be for us at times, if we follow in the L-rd’s way, by heeding His commandments and statutes and by not following other gods, He will be compassionate with us. And, in this particular time, when we have annihilated those who followed false g-ds; other gods; and while the L-rd is seething with anger towards those men who did so, He will reward those of us who do the hard work of staying true to His ways even when being tempted by others who did not. He realizes that the deeds connected with destroying those people who followed other gods will leave the Jews in need of nurturing and compassion. So, that is surely going to be afforded them. But, beyond that, He tells us that He will also have compassion upon us, which must be taken as that of the compassion one feels for one’s own child. Beyond the salving of wounds that is needed after destroying people and burning everything that had been theirs. But, the compassion that says, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright.”
The Torah cements all of the details of this arrangement together between the
L-rd and the People of Israel in Deuteronomy Chapter 13 verse 19 where the L-rd summarizes it in what is almost a childlike format: When will all of what we have described come to pass? (That question is not actually stated but the following answer begs the question). When you listen to (which is to say value or guard or pay attention to) all His commandments which I command you this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the L-rd your G-d.
So, it is simple. You are free to do as you please. You have freedom of choice. But, if you choose to act in the ways of barbarians, you do so at your own risk and G-d will have nothing to do with you. If you follow G-d’s precepts, G-d will make sure all you need you will have when you need it. It is simple. Like a parent speaking to a child. The very next verse, Deuteronomy Chapter 14 verse 1, confirms the relationship: “You are children of the L-rd your G-d.”
That leads us directly to the Laws of Holiness. Deuteronomy Chapter 14 verse 2: “Because you are a Holy Nation unto the L-rd your G-d and the L-rd your G-d has chosen you to be to Him a treasured nation from (among) all the nations.”
But, what is holiness?
To be separated from the rest of the world? To be dedicated? i.e. not for ordinary purposes. Perhaps. The commentators work hard in search of an understanding of Holiness. But, perhaps it is not as complicated; this concept of “Kiddusha”, Holiness, as we are led to believe it is. Your loyal writer’s father, Harold Kopf, z”l, (1920 – 1996), used to say that if you are having a hard time finding the solution to a problem no matter how far forward you have advanced your search; turn around. The answer may be right there; waiting for you.
“How odd of G-d to choose the Jews,” which is attributed to William Norman Ewer (1885 – 1976) a British journalist and poet, sparked numerous responses; some even poetic in style, the best of which is perhaps that of American poet Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971). It is easy to see where anti-Semitism fits into the minds and hearts of those who are not of the Chosen People. How dare any people title themselves the “Chosen People” of G-d? Until one puts it all into perspective and sees the entirety of the world and mankind’s place in it for what it is, might be and ought to be, and yet a person could go on along a pathway leading to a life where the value of human lives – including their own – is absolutely meaningless.
As we write this, we are certain that most anyone who might read it would say, “Not today!” But, if one is forced to look beyond one’s own immediate surroundings and to observe the actions of people who kill themselves and others, even their own children in the name of their gods in which they believe, or just to advance their own personal position of power, one is forced to realize that even in this supposedly advanced time the creature at the very top of the animal kingdom, mankind himself, can be worse than any of the animals and can act in a manner completely devoid of any kind of kindness. This is not merely tough talk. It is reflective of and reporting what is actually happening in the world today; which is no different than the barbaric and inhumane actions that Parshas Re’eh is admonishing us against doing; not just the Jewish People; but anyone.
Ogden Nash’s response to William Norman Ewer’s quip, “How odd of G-d to choose the Jews” was based on this and several other verses in the Torah:
“It’s not so odd, the Jews chose G-d.”
It is clearly up to each of us – Jews and non-Jews alike – to choose life by choosing to live the life we were created to live; one that honors and hallows life by making everything we do and say meaningful and towards the advancement of helping others in need of assistance to get the most they can from their own lives as well. In our parlance, we would call them “mitzvos,” which we translate as “good deeds.”
What to do with or about those who choose to worship other gods remains a question. If such “people” - and we need to use that word advisedly – remain in the jungle and only harm one another, it might be considered permissible. Even though, the Torah, as in our Sedrah Re’eh, if such “people” who believe in such false gods and who practice human sacrifice were made known to us, they would have to be dealt with so as to protect them from doing harm to themselves and to others; just as would be done with someone in our society who exhibited signs of destructive mental illness.
The Torah, in its Deuteronomy recapping of what came before in the first four books, moves now from Holiness and what it is for Jews as a nation and as individuals; really any individuals, to the very down to earth human need to eat with a very narrow focus on which living creatures are to be considered permissible to us as food and which creatures are not permissible as food.
There is an assumption here, at Deuteronomy Chapter 14 verse 3, that we are talking about a person, albeit a Jewish person, who, shall we say, knows from where his or her next meal is coming. The person being described is not desperate to where if he did not eat soon he would weaken and die. The later is the case that animals are always in. They eat whatever is available to them for the sake of survival. They have no inclination to or time to discriminate between what is “permissible” or not. They eat what they can or, soon enough, they will be dead.
If that were the case for a human being, if there were no options available but to eat something that is not permissible or suffer getting weak and not being able to subdue or otherwise capture an animal in order to eat and, then, eventually, die from malnourishment, then one is permitted to eat any animal. We are to live by these rules; not to die by them. This principal is referred to as “Peekuach Nefesh” where in order to sustain life almost any negative commandment – “Thou shalt not” – becomes inapplicable. See Leviticus 18:5 and Ezekiel 20:11 where this same theme is echoed.
With that as an understanding, we are reminded in Sedrah Re’eh of the list of animals that are permitted to be eaten and those that are not.
Then, as a capping-off of this section, we are reminded regarding not being allowed to boil a kid in its mother’s milk, which has, of course, become the basis for the rabbinical interpretations and the establishment of what are referred to as “fences” around the “law” or “prohibitions against eating meat and milk together. See Deuteronomy Chapter 14 verse 21 and also Exodus 23 verse 19.
The Torah offers no reason for this prohibition but one might surmise that such boiling of a kid in its mother’s milk could have been a practice connected to idol worship or with those who worship strange gods and that the Torah is keeping us away from such practices. There are those who say the prohibition is to help keep our hearts from hardening. The rabbinical “fences” are to help insure that such an act never comes about.
But, there may be more here in this focus on what we will and will not eat in light of the “Holiness” aspects of our lives. There is, and perhaps rightly so, a tendency for us to think holiness and to separate it from the physical parts of our lives; as if we can be holy in essence or in spirit, whatever that may be, without the involvement of what might be considered the seamy side of our life; that which involves the biological systems which make us able to live at all; but which are all of the physical and have, perhaps as we tend to see it, none of the spiritual and, therefore, tend not to be seen as candidates to be holy.
But, the Torah does not hearken to that way of thinking; not in the least. The Torah turns to the physical parts of our lives and requires that we some how harness them, draw certain restrictions around and concerning them, and, thereby, make our physical life, to at least these degrees, different than they might otherwise be, and, thereby, hallow them, and therefore ourselves, all the more so.
There is not very much ink used to write these few statements regarding what we are allowed to eat and what we are not allowed to permit ourselves to eat. But, the objective and purpose of these few lines of text reaches far further than their size. They reach deep into our very being in an effort to allow us to hallow ourselves from the outside in so that every bit of our entire being is special; set aside; different; reserved; and, thereby, holy.
Deuteronomy Chapter 14 verses 22-29 ends the chapter on the subject of food or sustenance but from the point of view of those who grow and raise food for their living and their relationship to the rest of the community. In an agrarian society, there are two types of people; those involved in raising crops or animals or both and everybody else. The Torah, here, concerns itself with those who serve the community’s psychological and spiritual needs; i.e. the Levites and those who have no means of support whatsoever through no fault of their own; such as widows and orphans.
The tithing described earlier in the Torah and referred to here in Sedrah Re’eh takes the idea of making oneself holy to the level of community. It is clearly not enough to make yourself holy both inside and outside. One must make everything one does holy. By dedicating a significant portion of one’s production to those who need it, one takes the step necessary to hallow everything one has worked to produce throughout the year by sharing it with others who devote themselves to the community’s spiritual wellbeing and to those in the community who find themselves in need, which we must remember could, at any time, be any of us.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15 deals with Shemeetah, “leaving” or abandoning” as it refers to the Sabbatical year. The word is derived from the root word ShawMaht or YeshMot, which is to cast down, to drop to slip or to move out of place.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15 verse 1, “At the end of every seven years you shall make a release.”
All the details that follow as an explanation of the “Shemeetah” year are based on the foundational premise that the entire economy was centered on agriculture. Everyone farmed and any kind of borrowing resulting in debt from one person to another was because something tragic or unforeseen had happened and someone needed charity. It was not business-based loans that were being referred to or made. It was charitable loans that might be repaid during the seven year period but which at the end of the seven year period would be absolved; released.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15 verse 2 is significant if not somber in its realistic observation: “For the poor shall never cease from out of the land.” And it hearkens back, at least from a grammatical perspective, to what was described above regarding the dietary laws helping hallow those who choose to observe them from the outside in; into our very deepest insides. Here, the reference is to the inside of the Land; of Israel, and that there will never cease to be poverty stricken people; i.e. paupers; “meekerev” which means “in the depth of” or “in the gut,” of the Land; but really, in the depth or the innermost part of the Land. And, so, the concept of “shemeeta” the releasing from debt, which is to say charity to those who need it, such as paupers, for whatever the reason, helps us to hallow the Land itself as we hallow the inside of our bodies when we choose to eat Kosher, from the outside in. Land is just land until mankind interacts with it. As we make it special, different, beyond the norm, we elevate it as the L-rd has commanded us to do, and, thereby, we are following in His ways.
The release of slaves, by which is meant bondsmen is described in Deuteronomy Chapter 15 verses 12-18 and carefully describes the person as one who has fallen on hard times and who agrees to join another Jew’s family and to justify his being taken care of in all ways to provide his labor for a period of six years. In the seventh year he is to be freed from his bond (read: commitment) and also given a significant holding (food and supplies) from the wealth of the bond keeper to give him a good start as an independent person. This demonstrates the humaneness and the philosophy of the Torah (i.e. as it insists that we act in this way towards those in such dyer need) toward the bondsman.
But, in Deuteronomy Chapter 15 verse 15, we are reminded that we – and here we must read it as what happened to our ancestors happened to us – were slaves in Egypt. This reminder can be seen as another cue to how we should conduct or see ourselves when we observe the Passover Seder each year; i.e. as if we had actually been slaves in Egypt and that we are reenacting the event that we had experienced ourselves. See: Exodus 13:8 - And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, "Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt.")
Deuteronomy Chapter 15 verse 19 – 32 talks briefly of how to handle the first born of one’s flocks and herds; i.e. the flocks of sheep and the herds of cattle and goats; how those animals are to be treated; i.e. specially, no work to be done by them; their wool not to be shorn; just to be sacrificed at the time and place identified when they (the Jews) are settled in the Land. It does get specific as to the degree of perfection for these animals; if they are not perfect, they are not to be used as sacrifices. It does not say if the animals can be used normally, i.e. for work like an ox of for wool, or to be eaten generally, and then, to end, it says the blood is not to be eaten but, rather, poured out like water onto the ground, as described earlier. It is repeated here, so it must be very important. But, the mentioning of pouring of the blood onto the ground certainly indicates that even if an animal was not acceptable for use as a holy sacrifice, it was acceptable for use as food, provided it was eaten as required; i.e. that the blood be poured out on to the ground. But, reminding us of that also indicated to us that the first born animals that were imperfect and rejected for sacrificial use were still eligible to be used as food.
Deuteronomy Chapter 16 deals with the three Pilgrimage Festivals. The Laws of each festival are mentioned or delineated earlier in the Torah - Exodus 23:14; and 34:18, Leviticus 23:4; and Numbers 25:16 – but, the focus here is on where all of Israel is to celebrate these special times: i.e. in the Holy Temple.
Deuteronomy Chapter 16 verse 5 is of particular interest. “Do not sacrifice the Pascal lamb within the gates that the L-rd your G-d has given you.” To make certain that we do not actually slaughter a lamb in or outside our homes today or even when we are living in the Land of Israel – nor to paint its blood on our door posts in the way it was done at the time of the first Seder night in Egypt.
Of course, if it is to be a reenactment in our homes, why not have us paint the blood on the door posts and actually slaughter a lamb? The answer is clearly because only the Holy Temple is for such sacrificing in post-Exodus times. Worshiping the L-rd was and is to be done in a highly proscribed way from then and onward and the possibility of allowing sacrifices to get out of hand is too great given the tendency of man in general to follow his baser nature. “Ever vigilant” might be the watchword against slipping back into a heathen state of being and practice.
The Torah then describes the timing of the other pilgrimages which will tell us how to know when the other two are to be observed in the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. The seismic shift from individual observance to communal observance is thus underscored as Sedrah Re’eh concludes.
The Haftara Parshas Re’eh is taken from the Book of Isaiah Chapter 54:11 to Chapter 55:5. It is the third Haftara of Consolation following the observance of the Fast Day of Tisha B’Av, the communal day of lament; the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, and serves as a prelude to the approaching High Holy Days just four weeks away. The central theme of the Haftara is one of assurance that even with danger in the world focused against us, we will be protected. The protections mentioned in this selection are one, physical and two, verbal or psychological; if you will. The physical protection is the promise that anyone attacking with a weapon will be defeated because their weapons will fail. The verbal protection will be against anyone who might speak negatively about us because their negativity will be matched and countered by all the positives about us.
But, there is more here that begs to be investigated and which demonstrates what we believe is a greater and a more profound relationship to the Sedrah Re’eh. The translations found in many Chumashim (The Text of Five Books of Moses) usually try to remain faithful to the poetry of the Hebrew text. Since such translations are readily available but often make it difficult to decipher what the poet is saying in language that will be understood by the more casual and modern-day reader, we offer here what we hope will be an illuminated translation even if the poetry of the Hebrew is sacrificed in doing so.
Isaiah Chapter 54:11-17 an Illuminated Translation:
Verse 11 – You, who are poor, tossed as by (and in) a violent storm without any comfort, here I will set before you an array of mineral deposits or stones of a vast number of beautiful colors with their base being sapphires.
Verse 12 – And I will place “keedkod” (Hebrew word, which means “carbuncles” or “jacinth,” which is a red transparent variety of zircon used as a gem stone) (over you like a canopy) to shade you from the sun and your gates (will be made of) garnet stones (in Hebrew it is: “efdach”) and all your surroundings will be of precious stones; that is, (they will be “highly desired” and “much wanted”).
Verse 13 – And all your children will learn about the L-rd and of a great peace that will belong to them [your children].
Verse 14 – You were conceived or planned or designed in righteousness to be far from business concern(s) --- mundane things --- [Please Note: Translations of this verse often use the phrase “far from oppression” but we find that more of a stretch to use in this instance) because you will not [need to] fear and (far from) [ruin] being blotted out or wiped out because such things will not (even) come near you.
Verse 15 – Behold! Anyone who gets riled (as in “antagonistically energized” or, in today’s parlance, “in your face” up [against you] will do so without My involvement (i.e. without the L-rd having caused it). But, whosoever shall get riled up against you shall fail because of you (i.e. of your being protected by Me).
Verse 16 – Behold! I have created artisans or craftsmen who blow (air) on fiery coals and who bring forth (from the fire) a (tool, or an implement or) a weapon as a result of (all) their work and I have also created the waster or destroyer to injure and to wound.
Verse 17 – All weapons that are manufactured [for use] against you will not be successful; will not prosper; and all those who speak out against you in judgment you shall condemn (argumentatively); this is what is the rightful possession; inheritance, of those who worship G-d and that which makes them Holy, as in separate and apart, and special, from Me, so said (the) G-d.
Verse 1 – Ho! (or “Now hear this!!” or, “Your attention please!” or even, “Hey!”) Everyone who is thirsty; come (here) [Lachoo, in Hebrew, means “to go” as in, “go there” for water; it seems odd that it is translated here as “come” and we are not certain why it is]. For water [but LahMaieem should be translated as “to the water”] and those who have no silver (read: “money”) go [or is it come?] buy and eat and go [or, “come?”] buy with no silver (read: “money”) and with no price (or rather “with no payment required”), wine and milk. [Wine referring to things celebratory and “milk” to things on a basic sustenance level].
Verse 2 – Why would one spend silver (money) on that which is not bread? or (pay with one’s) labor or toil without getting satisfaction?
Verse 3 – Turn your ears this way and come (or is it go?) to me; hear and enliven your souls; and I will create (grow as a farmer grows) with you an everlasting covenant in the righteous and faithful ways of (King) David.
Verse 4 – Behold! (See!) I have given him (King David) as a witness (or like a reference or character reference) (who was a) leader and commander of armies to (of) the people. [Rabbi Dr. J.H Hertz also Joseph Herman Hertz, z”l, 1872 to 1946, points out that Isaiah is actually referring to Zerubbabel, who was the leader of the Jewish exiles returning to Israel and who was a descendant of King David].
Verse 5 – Behold! (Alert!) You will call (out to) a nation that you do not know and a nation that was not aware of you (as a nation) will encounter you, because the L-rd your G-d, the Holy One of Israel, has made you magnificent.
Overview and take away:
It is, or, it would be much easier, really, if we, mankind, did not have freedom of will. Black or White. Yes or No. Now or Never. We would not need to feel the pressure that comes with every choice we have to make. Plants just keep looking for sunlight during the day and make do with whatever rain they get. Animals go from the moment they are hatched or born in a straight line curve to find food and water. No big decision making from moment to moment; day to day; until they ware out or get caught and become another animal’s meal. Nothing about nature is cruel or heartless. There are no expectations of any sort, except survival of the fittest. That is the nature of nature.
Left alone with no external guidance, it seems that we, mankind, could easily slip into the very same nature as all the other animals with the only choices to make being: kill or be killed; fight or flight; take it or leave it, until some misstep or until a more aggressive or smarter member of our own kind kills us. The thinker, man, with his amazing and super power to communicate with other human beings and to harness the various elements of nature itself to serve his own desires, constantly stands at a crossroads; the same exact one; every moment of every day; every single moment.
The Sedrah Re’eh and its Haftara are ultimately the Torah, G-d, recognizing that moment-by-moment-choice we each must make throughout our lives; to choose curses or to choose blessings; to make our lives special and important or not; to do everything we can do to create joy and happiness by helping others to do the same to the best of our and their abilities; to follow in the ways of the Creator of all Creators; to choose to emulate both by what we say and backed up by what we do what our own Creator demonstrated for us as being the most rewarding way to live; by creating a wonderful world for all in it to enjoy. The choice may be obvious. But, we are, remember, only made in the image of G-d and therefore must be ever vigilant to keep choosing, moment-by-moment, the way to a life filled with blessings.