Re'eh and Choice

Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B'nai Israel

Parshat Re’eh

August 26, 2022

Mishlei, Proverbs, teaches עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר. “She is a tree of life to those that grasp her, and whoever holds onto her is happy” ( 3:18). I try to hold fast to our Torah. I try to cling to Torah as a source of strength in good times and bad, to use the Holy Words to inspire my choices, to imbue meaning into each and every day. Parshat Re’eh rests on this principle, demonstrating that we have the free will to live our lives, AND that there are consequences for the choices we make. It is a parsha filled with law and pedagogy--with great teaching. Moses and God use multiple intelligences to make sure that every member of the tribe can truly accept the Torah.

In 1983, Howard Gardner, wrote of his theory of multiple intelligences. He recognized that while we may all be human, some of us learn in different ways. We have different techniques, talents and styles that help us absorb, retain and use information. He included:

Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

This week’s parsha engages almost all of these methods--except perhaps solitary--although Moses did have 40 days and nights with God--so perhaps he is a solitary learner.

This week’s parsha attracts the visual, aural and physical learners. The commandments, blessings and curses were written on the mountains. The people walked between them, seeing and hearing what was and what could be.

In this parsha, Gd and Moses demonstrated the impact of our choices. They divide the camp, shouting blessings from one mountain and curses from another. They imagined a dramatic scene as the people could physically SEE their choices, for good or for bad, for bracha or klala!

Logically, the people can see that their choices have consequences. The progression and direct links are demonstrated to them. They are given a tremendous gift, a lesson it takes many of us years to learn. As children, we do not always see the consequences of our actions--nor do we always see them as adults.

As an aside, Rebecca and I are watching the Good Fight on Paramount Plus. It picks up where the Good Wife left off a few years ago and follows Diane at her new firm. In the episode we watched this week, Diane and Adrian, are lawyers for a network news program preparing to air a story telling about sexual abuse by a prominent “nice guy” actor. The network wants to know if they can fight a lawsuit for defamation if the piece airs. Amidst the legal arguments, we discover that the network’s reporter was actually in law school when Adrian (the male partner) taught a class. She tells him that he only had eyes for another woman in the class (who he later married) and that she quit law school because she did not have the connections and access he could have offered her.

Stepping away from the borderline sexual harassment he had committed decades before, his favoritism for one student, led to other students feeling rejected and discouraged, with this character dropping out of law school entirely. He could not have imagined those consequences at the time, but what if we could?

What would our world look like if we truly knew the consequences of every choice? What if we knew that committing to exercise we would actually gain muscle or lose those five pounds? What if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that smoking that particular cigarette would lead to addiction and death three days shy of our 70th birthday? Strangely enough, it might leave us MORE paralyzed knowing every result of our actions! We would be so overwhelmed with the potential consequences that we might become even more fatalistic. A philosophical essay might ask if we truly had choice if we could know the full extent of our decisions!

Returning to our parsha, we are given a gift to know that we have choices AND that they have consequences.

כו רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם--הַיּוֹם: בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה.

26 See, this day I set before you blessing and curse:

כז אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה--אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת ה" אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם.

27 blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day;

כח וְהַקְּלָלָה, אִם-לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת ה" אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם, וְסַרְתֶּם מִן-הַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם: לָלֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי אֱ-לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתֶּם. {ס}

28 and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.

How often do we see our choices? Do we see the consequences of our actions? Do we see how a kind word can brighten someone’s day or how an ill-thought email creates a chain of more vitriol?

Sometimes we have to look back in time to see the future! It seems to me that Moses and Gd were attempting to use as many intelligences and learning styles as they could. By creating physical tableaux, Moses allows more people to connect to Gd’s laws and plans. By creating an environment where people can see, touch, hear, taste, smell and FEEL Gd’s law and plan, they made it more likely that the people would:

לב וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשׂוֹת, אֵת כָּל-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם, הַיּוֹם.

32 take care to observe all the laws and rules that I have set before you this day

I hope you read the parsha as we went along. While one might find it a little dry reading law, there is much beauty hidden within. Within this parsha we are connected through time and space to our traditions and our ancestors. By finishing the parsha with the holiday calendar, we are reminded of the inter-connecting cycles of Jewish life. By discussing what we eat, how we treat others, how we mourn and how we ensure that the needy are fed, we see the impact of our choices.

To me, this is one of those parshas that epitomize Jewish life. What is Judaism but a reminder that we have choices? What is Judaism but a reminder that our Gd is there to support us in making better choices? What is Judaism but the opportunity to see holiness in everything we do and increase it, one decision at a time??