by Alan Winfield - August 14, 2015

Imagine, if you will, the scene: Moses, standing in the plains of Moab, addressing about 600,000 Israelites, and their families. (Exodus 12:37). After a 40 year sojourn across the desert, he is going to lead them into the Promised Land. The entire book of Deuteronomy (which, in Greek, means the second telling of the law) purportedly consists of a series of three dissertations by Moses, given before the conquest of Canaan.

Tonight’s Parsha, Re’eh, is the longest portion of this discourse and instructs us of many of the rules by which we live, laying out several of the principles dictating how we should behave. It includes rules of the sanctuary, kashrut, laws of mourning, and several others. But for me the most significant part of the Parsha is its preamble, “Look, this day I bring before you blessing and curse; blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord…….and curse if you…….turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you.” Look, I give you a life full of possibilities. Pay attention to them. All choices matter. Every single decision you make, even if seemingly inconsequential, can be a blessing or a curse.

Jews don’t subscribe to predestination. If we stumble and fall down a flight of steps, we don’t get up and say “Thank God, that’s over with.” We, as individuals, are responsible for our actions, for what we do or don’t do. In the words of Rabbi Jodie Gerson, ”We live in a world where we are constantly making ethical, moral, and spiritual choices: do we recycle that bottle or is it just too much trouble, do we cut someone off in traffic or do we proceed in a more orderly fashion, do we yell at our kids or speak softly, do we ignore the homeless person we just walked by or do we retrace our steps and offer help?” Do we hear a bigoted or insulting comment made by someone else and just let it ride? After all, they weren’t talking to me or about me, I don’t need to interfere. And we make choices when we agree with, accept without comment, or ignore the actions of others. And you’re not off the hook by doing nothing. Not taking action is, in itself, a conscious decision, sometimes of great significance. And Tikkun Olam(repairing the world)is always available to us. It can be a huge endeavor or can begin with the smallest of acts. It’s amazing what you might do if you set your mind to it.

Blessing or curse. Your choice. ALWAYS.

There is a fascinating grammatical inconsistency to be found in the opening phrase of tonight’s Parsha. Re’eh begins in the singular form “Re”eh, see, and ends in the plural form , lif'neichem, all of you. The rabbis explain that the mitzvot are given to a single group of people. All of us receive the same guidelines. Hence singular. But each of us, separately, have to decide how to respond. What are we going to do. All sorts of actions are available. Multiple choices, plural form. And no one can force us to be obedient. Each one of us has the power, indeed the responsibility, to select our path. In fact, the idea of a commandment carries with it the idea of free choice. For a mitzvah to have any power to elevate, to make holy, to make us better people, we must retain the ability to refuse to act if we so choose. This is the gift that God grants us when He says “Look, this day I bring before you blessing and curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord…….and curse if you do not.”

This Sunday begins the month of Elul. Elul is the month preceding the high Holy Days and is a time of intense reflection, introspection, reconciliation. We search our souls, we make decisions. We choose blessing or curse.

The ball is in your court. Choose wisely.

Shabbat Shalom.

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