Parshas Re’eh

Rabbi Berel Wein

In this week’s parsha, the Torah continues with the theme that runs through the previous parshiyot of Devarim, that we are always faced with stark choices in life – either blessings or curses, good or evil. The words of the Torah seemingly offer little option for middle ground on these basic issues of belief and behavior. Yet, we are all aware that the events in life are rarely, if ever, all or nothing, one hundred percent blessing or curse. In fact, Jewish tradition and teachings instruct us that hidden in tragedy there is always a glimmer of hope and goodness and that all joy and happiness contain within it the taste of the bittersweet. Jewish philosophy and theology have taught us that evil somehow has a place in G-d’s good world. We are faced with the problem of why the Torah addresses these matters without nuance, in such a harsh way which seemingly brooks no compromise, without a hint of a middle ground. After all, the Torah is not a debating society where one is forced to take an extreme, uncompromising stand in order to focus the issue being discussed more sharply and definitively. Many rabbinic scholars of previous generations have maintained that it is only in our imperfect, post-Temple period that we are to search for good in evil and temper our joy with feelings of seriousness and even sadness. But in an idyllic world, where the Divine spirit is a palpable entity, the choices are really stark and the divisions are one hundred percent to zero. Far be it from me to not accept the opinion of these great scholars of Israel, however I wish to interject a somewhat different thought into this matter.

This parsha begins with the word re’eh – see. As all of us are well aware, there are stages in life that we can see well only with the aid of corrective lenses. Without that correction, we can easily make grave mistakes trying to read and see what appears before us. If we have to read small print, such as looking up a number in the Jerusalem telephone directly, it is almost impossible without the aid of corrective lenses. Well, this situation is not limited to the physical world, of just our actual eyesight, but it applies equally to our spiritual world of Torah observance and personal morality. Many times, we think we are behaving righteously when we are, in fact, behaving badly because we are not seeing the matter correctly. We are not wearing our corrective lenses, with the benefit of halacha, history, good common sense and a Jewish value system that should govern our lives. Without this vantage, we see blessings and curses, good and evil, blurry, and undefined before our eyes. The Torah wishes us to see clearly – to instinctively be able to recognize what is the blessing in our life and what is not. The Torah itself has been kind enough to provide us with the necessary corrective lenses to see clearly and accurately. These lenses consist of observance of Torah and its commandments and loyalty to Jewish values and traditions.

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