Sedrah Re’eh is found in the middle section of Moses’ parting sermons to the Israelites before his death and their entry into Canaan. In the opening sedarot of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses has concerned himself with a fundamental review of the journey to the Promised Land. His sermons are filled with criticism of the disloyalty the People displayed to God throughout their journey through the Sinai wilderness, and the many times Moses had to plead with God not to destroy them because of their lack of trust in Him and their tardiness in demonstrating their commitment to embrace His commands.
When we arrive at the opening verse of Sedrah Re’eh it appears that Moses is pausing before continuing his discourse to the people.
He presents himself as God’s messenger and says:
ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה , “Behold I place before you blessing and curse” (Deut. 11:1).
Some commentators say that it is remarkable that this verse begins with the word “Re’eh” (Behold), which is in the singular, but the rest of that verse refers to “you” in the plural. Chatam Sofer, a nineteenth-century German commentator, finds in this dual usage of singular and plural an allusion to the Talmud statement that “each individual has it in his/her power to affect the entire world for good and for bad” (Kiddushin 40a).
There is further significance in Moses’ turning from reflection on the people’s past to the present generation of the people standing in front of him. “Look” he tells the People of Israel: “you do not need to look to the past to find out what your responsibility is. It is placed here right in front of you! It is down to each of us today to prevent the society we are part of sliding into becoming accursed; it is down to each of us today to turn it instead into a source of blessing.”
Sedrah Re’eh is read in shul in the slow build up to the Yamim Nora’im during the concluding weeks of the Jewish year. There is a parallel between the People of Israel preparing for their entry to a new, enticing land with hope but also anxiety about what to expect, and our own annual preparation for the arrival of the New Year with a mixture of hope and uncertainty about what that New Year might bring.
What Sedrah Re’eh teaches is possibly the most important perception we take with us into the Yamim Nora’im. The best that we can bring into our Rosh Hashanah services and prayers is not to dwell on what shaped the year now ending, nor on what the future might bring. Rather we should preoccupy ourselves with what is “right in front of us”. We should focus on what we personally can achieve today in “turning into blessing” the life we share with our loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, fellow Jews, and all humanity.
Rabbi David Soetendorp