Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parashat Re'eh: Understanding the Choices

“See I set before you blessing and curse,” says Moshe at the beginning of this week’s parsha. Moshe is not just referring here to a one-time choice of following God’s covenant, but to the many daily moral choices that confront us each day. Hayom, he says. “Today.” Every day is a day of choices. And the key to making these choices is the name of the parsha -- Re’eh, “see” – being able to see, to understand the options before us.

How does one see properly, how does one know how to, each day, choose the path of blessings rather than curses?

The language of blessing and curse makes it seem that the choices are obvious, but the details that follow complicate the picture. There will be false prophets that attempt to lead one astray—they will predict signs that come true; they will speak in the convincing language of proofs. But the God they will speak of is one “whom you have not known.” You must learn to see, to perceive what is foreign and unfamiliar, what is too new to be trusted, what does not belong in the tradition. The distinctions are subtle and require deep sight and insight.

And then there are the times that you are drawn to be like others. You say to yourself, says Moshe, matay e’eseh ken gam ani? “When can I do that, too?” The wrong choices are often made by an attempt to be like someone else, to choose a path that is not one’s own, out of an inability to properly see and accept oneself and one’s own natural path. As my sister-in-law Sharon Anisfeld says in a song, “You can’t be who you are not.”

Not everything is black and white, a yes or no question. Eating meat outside of the parameters of the Temple, a good thing or a bad? On the one hand, one can only offer a sacrifice at this central location. On the other hand, the Torah says, if you have a desire for meat and you live far away, make a non-sacred meal of it and enjoy. It’s okay. But hazak, be strong in reference to one thing – You still may not eat the blood. There is room for flexibility – the path can be widened here -- but only up to a point. At some point, the point of blood, the path becomes narrow once more and one must no longer give in to desire but must practice strength, self-control and discipline. Perceiving where the path can be wide and where it must remain narrow is part of the process of learning to “see,” re’eh.

What is the reward for seeing and understanding and choosing the right path in all these situations? HaBrachah asher tishme'u. The blessing is that you will hear. The Sefat Emet says that the blessing is understanding itself, a new kind of hearing or perception. The more one practices the ability to see and make such choices, the more one can see and hear, the wiser one becomes, the closer to a deep divine understanding of the world, and that perception is the ultimate blessing.

1 comment:

  1. Some people are by nature choosers, or deciders; the choices appear to them, and they decide. And others are by nature perceivers; choices appear to them, and they seek to understand them, and describe them. Some organize the revolution; some write about it.

    You are suggesting that to become oneself, the wholesome person must do both; perceive the choice, and then make it. It sounds somehow true and impossible all at once.

    Though I wonder if a couple that together satisfies this ideal meets this standard.