Re’eh – You Have to See to Understand!

The Torah reading of Re’eh opens with the words: “See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the L-rd your G-d…”
These Bible verses arouse some difficulties in the way they are constructed: Why does the verse open in the singular – “See (sing.)”, and finishes in the plural — “before you (pl.)”? And why does it make use of the phrase “that you will heed” instead of “if you will heed” which follows in the next line? We also have to understand why the verse uses the word “See”, instead of “Hear”, as it does in other places such as “Hear O Israel”?

The human soul is fundamentally pure and honest. Every human being’s deepest desire — were it not for the evil inclination that incites him — is to worship G-d. One who lives according to the provisions of his “manufacturer”’s instructions, will live a good, balanced and happy life. That is why it says “that you will heed”, which refers to a presumed state and not a conditional state, because listening to the voice of G-d is the most logical and sensible thing to do. Disobedience to G-d and His commandments is out of the bounds of the rational, so this option appears in conditional language: “if you will not heed.”

How can a person overcome his evil inclination and return to his true self? The answer is a person’s effort and toil are the key to success and G-d's help. Although the means and knowledge are available to everyone, as it says “I set before you (pl.)”, each person has to engage in his own struggle, and each person will benefit according to the effort he expends, which is why “See” is in the singular.

The Dubner Maggid brings a well known allegory about a king who wanted to decorate and adorn the four walls of the great hall in his palace. He hired four artists and appointed each one of them over a wall which they would have to decorate by a specified time. Three of the artists began to work with alacrity, and achieved impressive results.

Their walls were stunningly beautiful. But the fourth artist was made of different stuff. He took all the money allocated to him by the King for working materials, and spent it on trips and parties. When the final day came, the artist took a great mirror and placed it along his wall. When the king arrived, one by one the curtains were pulled away, exposing the beautiful artwork on each wall. The King, as he had promised, placed next to each wall a sack full of gold coins as a reward to the artist.

When the king came to the fourth wall and pulled the curtain away, he only saw a reflection of the other three gorgeous walls. The scene was much more impressive than any of the other walls alone and everyone was confident that this artist would receive the greatest reward. But the wise king pointed to the three bags of gold reflected in the mirror and said to the artist: “Do you see the reflection of these three sacks? That's your reward!” The artist’s face fell.

The moral is clear: all of us are expected to toil in This World, but only those who really do it will achieve results and a reward. To achieve this, it is not enough to take things in simply and superficially, but one has to delve deeply. This is why this Torah reading begins with the command “See”, meaning  “Think about it, learn and internalize” the need for spiritual work, and don’t just hear it half-heartedly. May we merit G-d's help to be among those who take in this message properly and truly fulfill the will of G-d.

Shabbat Shalom.


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