Parashat Reeh—Rosh Chodesh Elul
Reeh. Look. Observe.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to distinguish between good and bad. And, above all, learn to discern and choose between the good that the bad has and the bad that the good has.
And, of course, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between good and evil; our senses can confuse us.
Sometimes we listen too carefully to slander, lashon hara, and it could hinder our opinion about things or people.
Situations are not always clear and prejudice or hasty judgment can lead us to a bad decision or a bad evaluation of what is happening, or of who we have in front of us.
Reeh. Look. Observe.
Carefully and intelligently. Perhaps with benevolent judgment, before closing an opinion. We talked a lot in the past parashiot about the particularity of the link between Israel and the Lord in which sight hardly intervenes. Usually, God speaks and the people listen.
And now: Reeh. Look. Observe.
In this parashah, we find a very concise summary of an important dilemma: what does the Creator require of us? The question asked again and again. We have read various responses throughout each portion along the year. And while this week's response is not new, for now, it is clear. “Look, today I give before you blessing and curse. The blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord… and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord…” (Devarim 11:26-28)
Kurtz und Shaft. It seems simple. And it is.
People of Israel arrived to a place in the desert in front of two mountains: Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. One, fertile and covered with vegetation and life, while the other remains inhospitable and arid. One represents the choice of good and blessing. The other, the choice of evil and curse.
But the hills would appear to be similarly located, one opposite the other. There would be no difference between the two.
Why is one so fertile? Why is the other not?
Sometimes the differences are subtle. What looks similar, is not. What we see as bad, could turn out to be good, and vice versa.
A small detail makes that difference: in the mountains of our story, it could be the inclination against the winds. How the rains fall in each of them. Whether they are watered, or not. How the sun or the cold caresses them.
In people, and in relationships, it is more complex. It involves attitudes. Life stories. Feelings, presences, absences. Needs and lacks. There is always a detail that helps us to evaluate correctly.
Reeh. Look. Observe.
Try to weigh each situation, each person, each link in the best and fairest way.
This is how the parashah continues: “Listen carefully to all these words that I am commanding you, so that it may go well with you and your descendants after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and just before Adonai, your God.” (Deut. 12:28)
The midrash, according to Rabbi Akiva, interprets as “what is good in the eyes of heaven and just in the eyes of men.” Rabbi Ishmael says: “Right in the eyes of heaven.”
It probably has to do with doing what is good and just in the eyes of God as well as in the eyes of men. So difficult.
The final answer, we find it again in Pirkei Avot. “Whoever is pleasing to his fellows, is also pleasing to God; whoever is not pleasing to his fellows, neither is he pleasing to God.” (Pirkei Avot 3:12)
Anyway, remember: Reeh. Look. Observe and evaluate justly. Because you must put all your senses into choosing one of the two paths.
At the beginning of this Torah portion we can read about the moment when Bnei Israel, entering the Promised Land, should make an individual and personal commitment. Each member personally must choose to do good or evil. Strangely, the first verse of the parashah begins in the singular. REEH, YOU must look, while continuing in the plural. “Ani noten lifneichem”—“I put in front of all of you.” All the people together.
The sight, when we evaluate something or someone, is always partial and of one’s own. The consequences and commitment, however, are collective.
On this Rosh Chodesh Elul, let us enter our period of reflection and teshuvah with a sharp and watchful eye, so that our choice of path in the year that is about to begin is one of commitment as a Community and as a people in the search for that path of good for all.
Shabbat Shalom vechodesh tov Have a peaceful Shabbath and a good month