For the week ending 25 Av 5760 / 25 & 26 August 2000

Parshat Re'eh

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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.



"See! I am putting in front of you today a blessing and curse...." (11:26).

Wealth and poverty don't effect everyone in the same way. Wealth influences some for the good, and through the blessing of wealth they come to a greater appreciation of Hashem. Had they been poor, these people might have been so occupied trying to find food that they would have forgotten their Creator. (This was the case in Egypt, where Bnei Yisrael were so exhausted by the hard labor that they didn't listen to Moshe.) On the other hand, there are people whose wealth removes them from the path of righteousness, as we see so often in our history that the Jewish People become successful and self-satisfied and forget Who gave them what they have.

When a person is poor, however, and "broken," Hashem never ignores his supplications. Thus, the verse says: "I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" -- and don't think that the blessing is wealth and the curse is poverty; rather everything depends on how a person deals with his riches or poverty. Whether he be rich or poor, if he turns his focus to the Torah and mitzvot he receives the blessing.

L'Torah U'Moadim


"You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting..." (14:22).

In the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven-year shmita cycle, Jews living in Israel were instructed to separate a tenth of their crops to bring to Jerusalem to eat. In the third and sixth years of the cycle, that tenth was given to the poor instead.

Why weren't the landowners required to share first with the poor and only then to enjoy their produce in Jerusalem?

The Rambam writes that one must give tzedaka, charity, with a joyous countenance. He writes that giving with a disgruntled demeanor negates the mitzvah. It is not enough to do chesed (kindness), one must love chesed. More than any other positive mitzvah, writes the Rambam, tzedaka is a sign of the essence of a Jew. By commanding us to bring a tenth of our crops to Jerusalem to rejoice there, Hashem taught us two vital lessons: That our material possessions are a present from Hashem and He can dictate how we use them, and that using material wealth in the way prescribed by Hashem generates feelings of joy and sanctity. Once we internalize these lessons in the first two years of the cycle, we can offer that bounty to the poor in the third year -- not perfunctorily, but with a true love of chesed.

Rabbi Zev Leff


Yeshaya 54:11-55:5


In this, the third of the "seven of consolation" haftaras, the Prophet Yeshaya (Isaiah) depicts a future time when it will be recognized that Hashem has glorified Israel, and the people will hasten to the scion of David who will lead Israel.

In this lyrical evocation of the Messianic Era, the prophet speaks of a world where protection will come openly from Hashem, and where those who hearken to Hashem will be satisfied in abundance, whereas material efforts alone will not suffice.

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