The opening few verses of Parshat Re’eh – the familiar choice between blessings and curses – is backed up immediately by a vision which my teacher of blessed memory, Dr. Ellen Littmann would have called “a wonderful depiction”: For, it says “You shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal”.
These two mountains lie near Shechem or Nablus, Mount Gerizim to the south while Mount Ebal is to the north.
As one who not only toured the Land of Israel but who spent time studying the land and its landscape this description resonates with me still for the two mountains are so starkly different, Mount Gerizim with its numerous natural springs is fertile whilst Mount Ebal seems arid in comparison. That these two neighbouring mountains should be so different was clearly noticeable and thus used to drive home a very definite point: that of choice and of the need by the people to make such a choice. The whole concept of blessings and curses is taken up later in the famous lists of blessings and curses to be found in Deuteronomy. What interests me here is the magnificent use of scenery in this speech, which ranks, in my opinion, with such as the setting stated in Exodus Chapter 19 prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments. The use of imagery to back up a message is now commonplace, yet it is worth pausing to note its usage.
The song of the Six Day War – Yerushalayim Shel Zahav or Jerusalem of Gold was as much about how the sun glints on that remarkable Jerusalem stone as the message that Naomi Shemer wanted to convey of a united Jerusalem; whilst since 2004 when so many were affected by it, the use of the term tsunami to describe a cataclysmic storm has become part of literature itself.
Mention of Jerusalem reminds me that sometimes the use of such descriptive language can perhaps be overdone; today’s penchant for using the poem “Jerusalem” as the English national anthem at sporting occasions, as well as the more familiar “Proms” may be counterproductive – my grandson, who was born in Jerusalem, heard it recently at a cricket match and was nonplussed as to why Jerusalem was being extolled at the Oval!
Using imagery to drive home a message is one thing, knowing how to use it and when is a greater skill!
Rabbi Charles Wallach
Ordained Leo Baeck College 1975
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.