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Judaism: Re'eh: Jews in the Eyes of History

Not knowing the past always blinds the present and dims the future.
Published: Friday, August 22, 2014 10:30 AM


The use of the verb "re’eih", see, by the Torah to begin this week's Torah reading indicates that the seemingly complicated and abstract choices in life regarding faith and doubt, good and evil, right and wrong and life and death are really simple ones. The word re’eih denotes something that can be seen with the naked eye and needs no great thought or judgment to identify it. The Torah implies here that life can indeed be a matter of simple correct choices that in reality are not difficult to make.

But how can these simple choices truly be seen and discerned? We are witness to the fact that a great deal of humanity, if not even the majority, makes very wrong choices in personal and national life. War, strife, angst and disputes govern human life and have done so for millennia. All of these are undoubtedly wrong choices, but if it is so simple and clear as to what the correct choice should be, then why do humans continue to make wrong and harmful choices?

So it is difficult for us to completely understand why the Torah should, almost cavalierly, say that if one but sees with one's own vision, one will unerringly make a correct choice in life. The Torah seems to indicate that the choices in life are stark and clear and that there is very little if any grey area surrounding or encompassing these issues. Would that this would be true.

But all of us are aware that there are great complications in life and that easy choices are rare and not very forthcoming.

I think that the “seeing” part of decision-making that the Torah envisions here extends to a knowledge and view of past events and of history generally. The Torah in essence tells us to look at what has gone before us, to see what decisions were made then and what the results of those decisions were, before making any current choices or decisions.

Not knowing the past always blinds the present and dims the future. Look at what happened to millions of Jews who abandoned their faith and observances, see their absence of generations and the misfortune that they brought upon themselves and the Jewish people generally. Be aware of those who placed their faith in Western civilization and not in the God of Israel or the destiny of the Jewish people.

See how unforgiving history is of wrong decisions and of the pursuit of vanity, the lure of passing political correctness and of the faddish culture of the time.

See and understand the fate of those Jews who no longer considered themselves Jewish but were destined to nevertheless be Jewish by the definition of a hateful anti-Semitic society.

In the eyes of history and of non-Jewish society there are no liberal or conservative, wealthy or poor, observant or less observant Jews. There are only Jews. This is a clear lesson of history that literally shouts at us and waves itself in front of our eyes.

The Torah is therefore completely correct in using the verb re’eih in dealing with the pivotal decisions of life that Jews and Jewish society are always faced with. Good vision and knowledge of the past will always help us find the right path for us and for all of Israel.