14/15 Aug: Re’eh :Shabbat comes in 8:11 pm, ends 9:16 pm
Parashat Re’eh: The Call to See
Next week, we will enter into the month of Elul – the month leading up to the High Holy Days. In Elul, we are encouraged to reflect on our lives, search our hearts, and heal our relationships. It’s a big ask in a regular life. Perhaps it’s an even more significant request from us in a year that has been so fraught with difficulty.
This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Re’eh (‘See’), which opens and closes with acts of seeing. It begins with the Divine telling the Children of Israel to see the blessing and curse that is set before them – the possibilities of the covenant, of being in relationship with the Holy One, and the possibilities of abandoning God and dealing with the consequences thereof. The Torah portion then finishes with a request that the Children of Israel should appear before God at the Temple on the festivals, to see and to be seen.
It’s a particularly interesting year to hear these calls to seeing. The latter seeing – appearing in the place of worship – has not been possible for long months, and we are still trying to build on shifting sands to figure out when it will be possible again. However, the former call to seeing is more metaphorical; it is a call to open our eyes and pay attention to the real ways in which our actions affect the world, our relationships, and ourselves. That type of seeing, I think, will be fundamental to this year’s experience of Elul. It is a call to begin the process of Elul by seeing ourselves and our lives with open eyes, as honestly as possible.
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman