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Parashat Re'eh - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Re'eh ("See!")

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Brit Chadashah


Deut. 11:26-16:17

Isaiah 54:11-55:5

John 7:37-52

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Torah Reading Snapshot:

Parashat Re'eh begins with a dramatic appeal to Israel to choose to obey the commandments of the LORD: "See, I set before you blessing (beracha) and curse (kelalah)" - a blessing if you follow God's ways, but a curse if you turn to idolatry and forsake the way of the LORD. A ceremony would later be held between the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal upon entering the Promised Land, during which the consequences of the blessing and curse would be pronounced (see Deut. 27:12-ff; Joshua 8:30-35).

Deut 11:26 (BHS)

The doctrine that man has free will (bechirah chofshit) is considered a fundamental principle in Jewish thought, at least according to some of the Jewish sages. For example, Rabbi Akiva is reported to have said: "Though everything is foreseen by God, yet free will is granted to man" (Avot 3:19).

The Concept of Arevut

Notice that the keyword re'eh is singular (you see!), whereas the pronoun lifneikhem (before you) is plural. Each person is to personally see that the blessing and the curse will affect the entire community of Israel. This value is called arevut (עֲרֵבוּת), "mutual responsibility," and the idea of caring for the welfare of one's fellow Jew is expressed in the phrase kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עָרֵבִים זֶה בַּזֶה), "all Israel is responsible for one another." This is a foundational value in Judaism - to preserve and protect the Jewish community and to help each person maintain their Jewish identity and responsibility to one another. It involves the idea of offering tochachah (correction) to fellow Jews to help them live in personal righteousness (Lev. 19:17): "You must surely admonish your neighbor and [thus] not bear sin because of him."

Sacrifices only at the appointed place

Because idolatrous practices were so common in Eretz Canaan (including the sacrifice of children to false gods), the people were commanded to destroy all objects related to avodah zarah (idolatry). They were not to serve the LORD in a manner that even vaguely resembled the abominable customs of the seven Canaanite nations with their altars upon hilltops and under trees.  Instead, the Jews were commanded to "seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his Name and make His habitation there."  Sacrifices were to be offered at the LORD's chosen place -- and no other.

Ritual Slaughtering

The (non-sacrificial) slaughtering of a kosher animal was permitted for food, so long as the animal was properly prepared (by a shochet) and all its blood was removed (i.e., poured out, with the meat salted and later washed to remove any residue). An animal that was not properly slaughtered (according to shechitah) is called neveilah and may not be eaten.

As explained earlier in Kedoshim, the eating of blood is strictly forbidden and is subject to being kareit, having your life "cut short." The same penalty applies to those who engage in the practice of interpreting omens (ov) or performing any form of witchcraft (yidoni). Perhaps this prohibition derives from the practices of the ancient Egyptians, who used to kill animals and drink their blood in order to predict the future.

The Giving of Tithes

Three types of tithes are mentioned in this portion of Torah:

  1. Ma'aser Rishon: A tenth of a farmer's produce was given to the Levite (who did not have their own portion of land in Israel) as a tithe. This amounted to supporting the priesthood and Torah teachers of Israel.
  2. Ma'aser Sheni: The land itself was tithed a second (additional) time (after separating the Ma'aser Rishon) on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th year of the seven-year Sabbatical cycle (shemittah). This produce was taken to the appointed place of worship (later, Jerusalem) and eaten there in celebration.
  3. Ma'aser Anni: In the 3rd and 6th year, the ma'aser sheni was given to the poor instead of being brought to the appointed place. The poor could then glean from the crops and enjoy the good of the land.

Navi Sheker - the false prophet

If a prophet (navi) or dreamer of dreams (choleim chalom) arises that performs "signs and wonders" and entices you to follow other gods, you are not to take heed to his or her words, but understand that the LORD is testing you to see if you love Him with all your heart and soul. We can discern if a prophet is false by testing them: If they claim a god (idol) spoke to them, then they are lying, since only the LORD is God and other so-called gods are impostors (i.e., demons). Another test is to see whether they abide by the mitzvot given by Moses. A true prophet would not add or take away from his message.

The penalty of delivering nevuah sheker (false prophecy) is severe: the false prophet shall be put to death. Indeed, if even a close family member secretly suggests that you abandon the LORD to follow after other gods, you shall not listen to him but rather reprove him openly. Then " shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."

And if an entire city falls prey to idolatry, the city should be utterly destroyed (cherem). This is called ir hanidachat - a city condemned for idolatry. All the inhabitants shall be put to death, and all their possessions must be burned "as a whole burnt offering (kelil - a synonym of olah) to the LORD your God."  The city may never be rebuilt again.

Shemittah - the Sabbatical Year

Every seventh year is a shemittah - a time of rest for the land. In addition, Moses added that the seventh year should mark a time of shemitat kesafim - the canceling of debts  owed to one's fellow Jew:

    "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release (shemittah). And this is the manner of the release (shemittah): every creditor shall release (shamot) what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD'S release (shemittah l'Adonai) has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release (tashmeit yadekha). But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess. (Deut 15:1-4)."

After a Shemittah year has passed, a Jew who lent money to another may no longer ask for repayment (this did not apply to loans made to foreigners). Moses further warned the people not to begrudge their giving to the needy brother because the Shemittah year was near. No - they were commanded to be generous and willingly help the poor among them.  Doing so yields a promise: "for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut 15:10).  Indeed, if the Israelites were obedient to the commandments the LORD promised them such an abundance that there will be no poor people living in the land!

The regular practice of tzedakah (charity) and the forgiving of debts were intended to provide a dignified society of people that cared for one another as mishpachah (family). The LORD was not creating a caste system in Israel.  This leads to the opening thought of this parasha: kol Yisrael aravim zeh lazeh - "All Israel is responsible for one another."

Indeed, according to many Jewish sages, the giving of tzedakah (charity) can change an evil decree from the LORD, as long as it is accompanied by true teshuvah (repentance).

Note:  Later, when Hillel saw people refraining from lending in transgression of Shemittah law, he ordained the "prosbul" which ensured the repayment of loans notwithstanding the Sabbatical year (Mishnah: Sheviit 10:3). Hillel's interpretation meant that a creditor was free to accept payment of a debt notwithstanding an intervening Sabbatical year, so long as the creditor had first verbally relinquished the debt.

Indentured Servitude

If an Israelite stole money and could not repay it, he or she was to be sold as a slave for six years of indentured servitude (the money of the sale paid for the theft). In the seventh year, however, he was to be set free.

When the slave was set free, however, he or she was to be given gifts and supplies to begin life again (Deut. 15:13–14). If the slave preferred to remain as a servant to the master, however, the master was to take an awl and put it through the slave's ear into a door, as a mark ownership for perpetuity.

Firstborn Males (bechorim)

All the firstborn males of the herd or flock shall be dedicated to the LORD. They shall not be "worked" or put to profane use, but only sacrificed and eaten before the LORD at the appointed place. However, if the firstborn has any blemish (mum), it shall not be sacrificed, though it may be ritually slaughtered and eaten as other kosher meat.

Shelosh Regalim - the Three Pilgrimage Festivals

The parasha concludes with the reminder that all of Israel was to observe Shelosh Regalim, the three major pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot.  Every Israelite was to make a pilgrimage to the Mishkan (and later at the Bet Hamikdash) and offer sacrifices according to his means. These were times of rejoicing and fellowship before the LORD as am segulah - God's treasured people.

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

The Haftarah of Re'eh is called the third of the "Haftarot of Consolation," offering encouragement to klal Yisrael even in the face of exile. Though Jerusalem is desolate, the LORD will one day "lay its foundation with diamonds" and then "all your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great will be the peace of your children."

This will be fulfilled when the nation of Israel comes to the waters of life freely given by Yeshua the Messiah: "Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David."

When the Jewish people finally turn to the LORD Yeshua and accept Him as Mashiach (after the Great Tribulation), the covenant promises given to Israel will be fulfilled during the 1,000 year reign of Mashiach, and the nations of the world will be gathered to him as their Prince and Commander:

Isaiah 55:4 (BHS)

Behold, I have given Him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. (Isaiah 55:4)

Gramamtical Note: The word "people" in this pasuk appears to be a synonym for both goyim and amim. Its lemma appears in Gen. 25:23; 27:29; Psa. 2:1; 7:8; 9:9; 44:3; 47:4; 65:8; 67:5; 105:44; 148:11; Prov. 11:26; 14:28, 34; 24:24; Isa. 17:12f; 34:1; 41:1; 43:4, 9; 49:1; 51:4; 55:4; 60:2; Jer. 51:58; Hab. 2:13. The exact meaning of the shoresh (root) is unclear, but seems to imply "togetherness" or an "assembly." The Lamed in the word does not appear to be a prefixive Lamed, but is rather part of the root (therefore translations such as "to the people" or "for the people" are incorrect).
In Genesis 25:23 Rebekah is told that two nations (goyim) are in her womb and two peoples (l'ummim, pl. of le'om) were to be come from her. Isaac's descendants would consist of two distinct types of people (hence the KJV translation "two manner of people"), each identified by their unique quality (Ya'akov representing Israel; Esav representing Edom/the world). In Genesis 27:29 ammim appears as a poetic/parallel for l'ummim. In the Psalms, l'om is also used in parallelism with goyim (e.g., Psalm 2:1; Psalm 44:2 [H 3]) and ammim (Psa 7:7 [H 8]).

Brit Chadashah Snapshot:

The reading from the gospel of John recalls Yeshua's appeal to klal Yisrael to come to Him and freely receive the promised "living waters" (during the "water libation ritual" on the last day of the festival of Sukkot).


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