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      Judaism: Re'eh: Personal Responsibility

      Published: Tuesday, August 19, 2003 11:53 AM
      Parshat Re'eh starts out with a syntactic peculiarity. Its first verse uses the singular imperative word re'eh, meaning ?See?, to address a plurality: "Re'eh, I present before you [plural] today a blessing and a curse." The syntactic imperfection carries a direct message to every individual: watch out, you are personally responsible.


      Parshat Re'eh starts out with a syntactic peculiarity. Its first verse uses the singular imperative word re'eh, meaning ?See?, to address a plurality: "Re'eh, I present before you [plural] today a blessing and a curse." The syntactic imperfection carries a direct message to every individual: watch out, you are personally responsible.

      Interestingly, the first verse of parshat Re'eh is the last of three verses in the book Devarim that each start with the word re'eh and continue in the plural:

      "Re'eh, I have given the land before you; come and take possession of the Land that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their children after them." (Devarim 1:8)

      "Re'eh, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as HaShem, my G-d, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come to take possession of it." (Devarim 4:5)

      "Re'eh, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you listen to the commandments of HaShem, your G-d, that I command you today, and the curse if you do not listen to the commandments of HaShem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow the gods of others, that you did not know." (Devarim 11:26-28)

      The three verses put together form a coherent text with three timeless admonitions to each member of the Jewish Nation:

      "Come and take possession of the Land." As the Ramban notes, the verse Devarim 1:8 is a commandment. It is formulated in the plural as the People of Israel is commanded to collectively take possession of the Land. However, through the singular word re'eh, the individual Jew is addressed at the same time. One should therefore not wait for the masses to make Aliyah. Irrespective of how many prefer to stay in the Diaspora, every individual Jew is called upon to live in Israel.

      "To do so in the midst of the Land." Torah is the Law of the Land of Israel. The plural formulation of verse Devarim 4:5 indicates the national aspect of the issue. But again, through re'eh, the individual is addressed in parallel. If the Nation strays, this is no excuse for the individual. Irrespective of the state of Torah observance in the Nation, every Jew is obligated to live a life of Torah.

      "A blessing and a curse." Parashat Re'eh starts with the principle of reward and punishment on a National level. Israel will be rewarded if they follow Torah, and punished if they do not. In this case, the admonition to the individual Jew concerns the obligation to warn and protest when things go wrong. The Talmud (Shabbat 54,55) teaches that even the righteous of a non-deserving generation will not escape punishment unless they protest when they can.

      May there soon be only blessings.