Parashat Re'eh

Seeing Is Believing

Parashat Re'eh calls our attention to our ability to choose the directions of our lives.

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Yet the use of the word "see" at the beginning of Parashat Re'eh is about something other than the physical act of seeing. Of the more than four hundred times in which the verb "see" is used in the Tanakh, this is one of the few times in which it has special significance. Others include the following:

In Genesis 27, Isaac, whose "eyes were too dim to see" (27:1), smells the clothes that he thinks are Esau's and says, "Re'eh, the smell of my son is like the smell of the fields that Adonai has blessed" (27:27). In Genesis 41:41, Pharaoh says to Joseph, "Re'eh, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt" after Joseph has proposed his plan to save Egypt from famine. When Moses has doubts about whether Pharaoh is listening to him, God replies: "Re'eh, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh" (Exodus 7:1). After the people bring their freewill offerings for the Tabernacle, Moses introduces the man in charge by saying, "R'u [plural of Re'eh], Adonai has singled out by name Bezalel…" (Exodus 35:30). And in a phrase strikingly similar to the one at the beginning of Parashat Re'eh, we read about clear-cut choices again in Deuteronomy 30:15: "Re'eh, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity."

In each of the examples above, the speaker is announcing something that will have an impact on the future. We often use the imperative form when we want to get people's attention. For example, when we are trying to make an important point, we say, "Look, this is what I want you to understand" or "Do you see what I mean?" The word Re'eh is a way of drawing attention to what is happening or is about to happen, focusing on its importance, and recognizing that the future will be different based on the choice that is about to be made. Whether or not you can see the blessings or the curses in front of you, you have to believe that you can, and then you have to believe that God has given you the ability to do what is right as an individual and as a member of the Jewish community.

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Rabbi Stephen Karol

Stephen Karol is the rabbi of Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, N.Y.