Our Torah portion this week marks the beginning of Moses’ rather lengthy farewell sermon to people Israel and begins with the words:
“Re’eh Anochi notan lifnaychem hayom bracha uklalah” ( Deut 11:26),
“Behold, I have set before all of you [the community of Israel] blessing and curse.”
Four weeks from now, the sermon will conclude in Parshat Nitzavim with the words “Re’eh natati lifanecha hayom et hachayim v’et hatov v’et hamavet v’et hara” (Deut 30:15), “Behold, I have set before each of you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”
In between this call to the community of Israel here in Re’eh and the plea to every individual Jew in Nitzavim, the Torah challenges each of us and all of us to choose life by choosing obedience to God in every aspect of our lives. The commandments found in this week’s Torah reading govern both our ritual responsibilities to God and our social and ethical responsibilities to our fellow human beings. Re’eh includes a wide spectrum of ritual and ethical commands, including the responsibility of tithing and the observance of Holy Days that are interwoven with ethical imperatives directed toward both the individual and the community. The Torah reminds us here that as Jews, despite the fact that we acknowledge the existence of holy time and holy space, we do not see the service of God as limited to any one time or one place. What I do and what I do not do matters in determining my personal destiny and the destiny of every person with whom I have direct or indirect contact. To me one of the messages of the two Re’eh verses is that what we do or do not do also matters, and that we can be interpreted as we, the Jewish people, we Americans, or we the family of nations. The front pages of the world’s newspapers are filled with examples of how human action and inaction determine the destiny of others.
Sunday and Monday of the coming week are rosh chodesh Elul. The first of Elul, according to rabbinic tradition, is the day Moses ascended Sinai for the second time. It is the time, each year, when we are commanded to begin our annual process of introspective preparation for the Days of Awe, for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. As I look again at these two verses with which Moses begins and ends his farewell sermon to the people of Israel, and see the month of Elul, as our rabbis did, as a mnemonic for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”), I see that reflection on both a personal and communal level is the first step I must take in order to express my love of God and to experience God’s love for me and all my fellow human beings. The second step is to call upon myself and others to take action by being God’s voice and hands in the world. The spectrum of commandments found in this week’s parsha reminds me that the choices each of us make has an impact on the destiny of all of us, and that the choices we make as a community affects the options available to each of us. Every one of us can be a source of blessing or curse to others. Each of us is faced every day with multiple opportunities to choose between the ethical over the expedient in everything we do.
As we approach the year 5769 may each of us not only wish each other a “L’Shana Tova,” a good year, but ask: What am I going to do in the year ahead to make life better for myself, my family, my community, my people, and my world?
God has set choices before us all. May it one day be written that 5769 was the year that we the Jewish people chose life by becoming full partners with God in the repair of the world.