By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
“See, I am setting before you today the blessing and the curse: the blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your GOD, which I am giving to you today; the curse if you disobey the commandments of the Lord your GOD” (1).
These are the first words of Moses’ monologue to the Children of Israel, in this week’s Parsha (RE’EH).
In effect, Moses is defining ‘reality’ for this generation; and, all future generations. He is doing so, as a preface to what is to follow; specifically, a restatement of Jewish law, which includes all aspects of life for this nation.
Unlike the preceding Parshiot in the Book of DEUTERONOMY, in Parsha (RE’EH), there are no mentions of the sins, which were committed by the Israelites, during their forty years of dwelling in the desert. Actually, in this week’s Parsha, there is no singular theme. Absent any cohesiveness, the various chapters discuss: rituals of mourning; kosher and non-kosher foods; charity, idolatry; tithes (taxes); and, other disparate commandments. Most of these subjects are repetitions of commandments, which we have read before, particularly in the Book of LEVITICUS. Nevertheless, Parsha (RE’EH) does include some new revelations.
“If your brother, your son or daughter, your wife, or your friend, attempts to entice you to go and worship gods of others – – you shall not accede to him; your eyes shall not take pity on him; you shall not be compassionate, nor conceal him….rather you shall surely kill him” (2). The Torah outlines the laws pertaining to the ‘meisit’, (someone who tries to convince his fellow Jews to turn to idol worship). This sin is considered to be the most heinous and evil of any act which could be perpetrated.
God is fully aware that virtually all of the surrounding nations worship multiple gods; although the people are actually ruled by kings, dictators, and autocrats. The populations of these other nations are considerably more numerous, than will be the Israelites in their new land. In these other nations, there are no laws of justice; and, an individual and his family can be killed, merely by the caprice of those in power.
Another striking element of Parsha (RE’EH) relates to ‘tzedakah’ (charity). “If there is a poor man among your people, in any of the towns that the Lord, your GOD is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your poor brother; rather be open-handed and freely give him what is sufficient for his needs” (3).
In a famous passage, Maimonides describes eight levels of charity, each greater than the next (4). The highest level is to support a fellow Jew, by either entering into a partnership; or, helping him to find employment. The lowest level is one who gives; but unwillingly.
Biblical Israel is the first example in history of an attempt to create a free society. “The government of the Israelites was a Federation, held together by no political authority; but, by the unity of faith, based only on a voluntary covenant; the people recognized no lawgiver, but God…Thus the example of the Hebrew nation laid down the parallel lines, on which freedom around the world, has been won” (5).
(1) DEUTERONOMY (11:26-28)
(2) DEUTERONOMY (13:7-10)
(3) DEUTERONOMY (15:7-11)
(4) Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity (10:7-14)
(5) “Essays in the History of Liberty”, Lord Acton (Liberty Classics)