For the week ending 27 August 2011 / 26 Av 5771

Parshat Re'eh

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe presents to the nation the blessing of a spiritually oriented life, and the curse of becoming disconnected from Hashem. When the nation enters Eretz Yisrael they must burn down any trees that had been used for idol-worship, and destroy all idolatrous statues. Hashem will choose only one place where the Divine Presence will dwell. Offerings may be brought only there; not to a private altar. Moshe repeatedly warns against eating animal blood. In the desert, all meat was slaughtered in the Mishkan, but in Eretz Yisrael meat may be shechted anywhere. Moshe lists the categories of food that may only be eaten in Jerusalem. He warns the nation against copying ways of the other nations. Since the Torah is complete and perfect, nothing may be added or subtracted from it. If a "prophet" tells the people to permanently abandon a Torah law or indulge in idol worship, he is to be put to death. One who entices others to worship idols is to be put to death. A city of idolatry must be razed. It is prohibited to show excessive signs of mourning, such as marking the skin or making a bald spot. Moshe reiterates the classifications of kosher and non-kosher food and the prohibition of cooking meat and milk. Produce of the second tithe must be eaten in Jerusalem, and if the amount is too large to carry, it may be exchanged for money with which food is bought in Jerusalem. In certain years this tithe is given to the poor. Bnei Yisrael are instructed to always be open-hearted, and in the seventh year any loans must be discounted Hashem will bless the person in all ways. A Jewish bondsman is released after six years, and must be sent away with generous provisions. If he refuses to leave, his ear is pierced with an awl at the door post and he remains a bondsman until the Jubilee year. The Parsha ends with a description of the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot.


The Apprentice

"You are children to Hashem, your G-d and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person." (14:1)

Once there was a prince who was sent by his father the king to a distant village. The king wished him to learn there the ways of kingship. The prince spent many years in the village. Finally the king was satisfied that his son had extracted the maximum from his experience, and he summoned the prince to return to the palace. After his departure, the villagers eyes filled with tears and they sat down and cried. There was one villager amongst them, however, who was amazed at their behavior. "Why are you crying?" he said, "Is he not the kings son? Has he not returned to the palace?"

The soul in this world is like a prince fulfilling an apprenticeship in a distant village.

We are here solely to learn the ways of the King. In this world, we are clothed with a physical existence. However, our entire focus and desire must be to return to the palace.

The Torah forbids us make a bald spot between our eyes to grieve for a dead person as was the custom of idol worship. Interestingly, in that same place in the Torah we are commanded to place the totafot, the tefillin on the head. The Torah teaches us that when wearing the tefillin we must never remove our concentration from them. Similarly, we must never remove our focus from the purpose of this world, and turn the place of the tefillin into a bald and empty space by grieving too much for someone who has returned to the palace.

We must not mutilate our bodies in grief, for the body is no more than our clothing. It is not us. This physical world must never divert us from our apprenticeship in this world, whether though pleasure or through grief. The entire purpose of this world and our existence here is to be able to return to the world of truth having perfected ourselves.

If we remember this we will always be happy. For all lifes vicissitudes will be seen as no more than part of our apprenticeship.


  • Sfat Emet

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