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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Reah

See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

Life presents us with one of two extreme situations:. We either evoke blessing, so that everyone looks up to us, respects our word, and reveres our religion; or, we symbolize curse, dust of the earth, to be stepped upon and trampled. The Vilna Gaon, zl, notes that the word "Re'eh" is written in the singular. He explains that the Torah speaks to each individual. Man is not judged by the deeds of society as a whole. Rather, Hashem judges each individual according to his own actions. Do not see yourself reflected in the world. Avraham preached to an entire world. He represented one world view, while the rest of the world had another perspective. Hashem says, "While you seem to think that you are alone, it is not true." "Anochi" - I - Hashem is with you when you make the decision. Moreover, it is presented to us "hayom," today. It is never too late to choose between right and wrong, between blessing and curse. It is presented, "lifneicham," before you. We have the choice to do good - or bad. The choice stands in front of us. We have to decide on which path to travel.

In an alternative exposition, Horav Moshe Swift, zl, notes that the pasuk begins by admonishing the individual and concludes by speaking to the whole Jewish community. A Jew should realize that the success or failure of a community is determined by the individual. It is like a factory in which each individual is but a single component in the success or failure of a product. If one link is broken, the entire chain will fall apart. The Jewish community is similar, it all depends upon the individual's perspective and involvement.

Last, we suggest that the Torah emphasizes Re'eh, see, look around you at those people who raised their children in the way of blessing and triumphed, and those who either thought they knew better, or knew they knew better, or simply did not care. If you really look, the answer will be quite apparent.

Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, questions the use of the word, Re'eh, See. The Torah could simply have stated, "I am placing before you a blessing and a curse." Furthermore, why does the Torah speak to individuals in the singular? The Torah intends the message for everyone! He explains that each person has developed his own idea of what constitutes a blessing and a curse. One might view a sickness to be spiritually therapeutic, since it catalyzes the individual to examine his life. Others might consider good health to be a blessing, while others might feel that children or wealth is the blessing.

Hashem says, "Re'eh" - See! - in the singular, to tell us that each individual will receive his own individual blessing. Sometimes, however, what one wants does not necessarily comprise blessing. Wealth can expose the individual to undue trial and temptation, or he may become a target for criminals. Furthermore, what one thinks constitutes a curse may not turn out that way.

Hashem says "Re'eh" - each individual will be able to see clearly the curse and the blessing. It will be apparent to everyone. Not only will we be given blessings, but we will understand that they are blessings, even though others may disagree. The individual will see the blessing and the curse, so that his decision will be an informed one.

Safeguard and hearken to all these words... In order that it will be well with you and your children... When you do what is good and right in the eyes of Hashem, your G-d. (12:28)

Gemillas chesed, performing acts of loving kindness, is unquestionably the most rewarding type of deed one can perform. They are rewarding in both a material and spiritual sense. Classic Rabbinic material is replete with references to the merit one engenders for himself when he helps others. Each different category of chesed is demanding in its own unique manner. Visiting the sick and infirm means more than getting into a car or sending flowers. It means empathizing with the sick person, feeling his pain and easing his burden. Probably the most important message we can convey to a sick individual that we are there with them; - they are not alone in their pain. The Chofetz Chaim, zl, says that performing acts of chesed is a zechus, merit, for long life and for blessing in family matters. Visiting the sick is a special zechus for shidduchim, marriage. We see this from Chazal in the Mishnah in Peah, 1:1, that says: These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: the honor due to a father and mother;... visiting the sick; providing for a bride; escorting the dead, etc..."

Interestingly, Chazal place hachnasas kallah, addressing the needs of marriage-- whether it means finding a shidduch for a young woman or man, raising the money so that the wedding can take place, or to outfitting the chassan/kallah in a manner appropriate for a Jewish child -- prior to halvoyas ha'meis, caring for the deceased. Moreover, they place hachnosas kallah between bikur cholim, visiting the sick, and halvoyas ha'meis. Certainly, the Torah is conveying a message to us via the positioning of the acts of chesed in this Mishnah. The commentators suggest that the mitzvah of chassan/kallah has the ability to serve as a distinction between visiting the sick and attending to the deceased. In other words, caring for the needs of a chassan/kallah is a merit that the sick will not succumb to their illness. Do we need another reason for performing this special and vital act of kindness?

The Torah lists the widow and the orphan among the people who are in distress that one should go out of his way to help. Their situation warrants that they have primacy over everyone else. They are alone; they feel dejected. They must be given chizuk, strengthened and encouraged. A Jew should never feel alone. It is our responsibility to make sure that every Jew is provided for in every way. The story is told that in the neighborhood of the Steipler Rav, zl, an old widow lived all alone. One day, she fell down and broke her leg. She was now alone and incapacitated. One of her neighbors, whose husband happened to be a close student of the Steipler, took her into her home and cared for her physical and emotional needs. When the Steipler heard of this woman's selfless act of giving, he remarked, "Now we can send people to her to ask her for a brachah, blessing. Her brachos will certainly be mekuyam, fulfilled, because of the chesed she performed with this widow." If we keep this in mind, we might find people in our own individual communities who are worthy of sharing their blessing with us.

As a postscript to the above, I would like to address a problem that exists among some of us. We have just concluded writing about the importance of performing acts of chesed, reaching out to others in need, and increasing our sensitivity to others who are less fortunate than we are. There are people who devote themselves wholeheartedly to gemilas chesed. Regrettably, not all of them are motivated by the same sense of commitment. Some individuals seek to help their fellow-man. They feel his hurt, they sense his pain, they empathize with his loneliness. Other people act similarly, but for different reasons. They either enjoy the glory, crave the attention, or love to talk about all the wonderful things they do. Some members of the community cannot tolerate this insincerity, denigrating these pseudo do-gooders at every opportunity. To them, I ask: Who cares? Who cares why someone helps another Jew? Who cares if their motivation is suspect, if their sensitivity is not what it seems? As long as they help - as long as they are always there - who cares? Even though they talk about their wonderful endeavors - constantly, they do visit the ill, support the infirm, and console the bereaved. If they are performing these good deeds, then yeyasher kocham, all power to them.

An intriguing Midrash supports this idea. Chazal tell us that after the wicked Izevel -- wife of king Achav -- died, the people in charge came to collect her body to prepare it for burial. All they could find was her skull, feet and hands. Everything else had been devoured. Chazal explain that Hashem spared these body parts because of Izevel's custom to dance at weddings, clapping her hands and shaking her head back and forth. Her devotion to the simchas chassan v'kallah was rewarded in that these limbs were spared for burial. We can assume that Izevel's motivation was certainly not because of her sensitivity to the feelings of the bride and groom. This was a woman who proliferated idol-worship and who had Neviim, prophets, mercilessly killed. This cruel, evil woman cared only about one person - herself, yet she was rewarded for her act of chesed. Indeed, only the actual limbs that "performed" were spared. Hashem does not seem to critique one's motivation. Why should we?

Therefore, I am commanding you, saying, open your hand to the needy and poor breathren in your land. (15:11)

Generally, the word "leimor," saying, is used when the speaker wishes to have his words conveyed to others. This approach creates a problem in regard to this pasuk's translation. It would seem that Hashem is saying, "I command you to say - you shall open your hand to the needy and poor." This does not translate smoothly. Why would Hashem instruct us to say, "You should open your hand to the needy and poor"? To whom should we say this? The Vorker Rebbe, zl, explains that the mitzvah of tzedakah consists of two aspects. First and foremost is the actual "giving" of material support to the person in need. There is another facet to tzedakah that is often overlooked. It is important to realize what the poor man must experience before he approaches us for assistance. It is humiliating and devastating to ask for help. Thus, giving is not sufficient. We must make every attempt to appreciate his shame and try to lift his spirits as we provide him with material support. How does one make a poor man feel good? How do we encourage one who is in distress and give him hope?

We do this by explaining that he, too, might one day have the ability to support himself and others. Many people have been blessed with good fortune. He might become one of the fortunate ones. By giving him words of encouragement, we give him hope - a commodity that is more important than the money he receives. This is the meaning of the pasuk: When a poor man comes to you for assistance, say to him, you too will one day have the opportunity to open your hand to the poor. One day your fortune will change and you will be able to help others.

Three times a year all your males should appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose. (16:16)

The Shalosh Regalim are spiritually uplifting times, when we celebrate with Hashem. The Torah enjoins us to come to the Bais Hamikdosh during each of the festivals to experience the holiness and joy of the moment, in the city and edifice where the Shechinah reposes. The Torah mentions the mitzvah of Aliyah l'Regel, going up to Yerushalayim on Yom Tov, three times. There is an inconsistency in the text concerning the manner in which the Torah refers to Hashem in each of these three presentations. In our parsha, He is referred to as "Hashem, your G-d". In Parshas Mishpatim (Shemos, 23:17), the Torah calls Him "the Master Hashem". In Parshas Ki Sisa (Shemos, 34:23), the Torah alludes to Him as "the Master Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael." Why is there a significant change in the manner in which the Torah refers to Hashem?

Horav Meier Shapiro, zl, explains that each mention in the Torah is a reference to Hashem's revelation in this world. Hashem revealed Himself three times. He first revealed Himself to Avraham Avinu, when the Patriarch was but three years old. Avraham understood from this revelation that there is a "manhig l'birah," "master to the house," that Hashem Yisborach guides the world. This concept was Avraham's primary lesson to a world filled with paganism and immorality. Hashem's appearance was an introduction, "I am the Master, Hashem." This coincides with the first time the Torah mentions the mitzvah of Aliya l'Regel.

Hashem's second revelation was to Yaakov Avinu, when Yaakov dreamt of the ladder upon which angels were ascending and descending, and Hashem was in the Heaven above. Hashem told Yaakov, "I am the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak; the land upon which you are now resting will be given to you and your descendants." Hashem appeared now, not just as the Master of the world, but as the G-d of Klal Yisrael. He promised to give Eretz Yisrael to Yaakov's children. This revelation coincides with the mitzvah of Aliyah L'Regel which is written in Parshas Ki Sisa where Hashem is called "the Master Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael."

The third time Hashem revealed Himself to Klal Yisrael was during Matan Torah, when He gave the Torah to us. He proclaimed, "I am the Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt, from the house of servitude." In what is the first of the Aseres Hadibros, Ten commandments, Hashem goes beyond being the Master of the world and the G-d of Yisrael. He now appears as the personal G-d of each Jew, Who guides our lives through Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. This coincides with the mitzvah in our parsha in which the Torah refers to Hashem as "Elokecha," your G-d, the personal G-d of each and every Jew. The three festivals imbued these three concepts of emunah in every Jew. Faith in Hashem as Master of the world, G-d of Yisrael, and personal G-d of each Jew, sustains our faith in the Almighty throughout the year.

1) When the Torah says that the blessing should be placed upon Har Gerizim, what does this mean?

2) a) Was it permitted to offer a Korban Chatas upon a bamah, during the 14 years the Mishkan was in Gilgal?

b) Did this apply to Mishkan Shiloh?

3) How is Yerushalayim referred to in this parsha?

4) Is the cheilav of a deer prohibited?

5) Regarding which prohibition does the Torah in our parsha refer to Klal Yisrael as Am Kadosh?

6) Who is in worse financial straits; the ani or the evyon?

7) Does a Jewish maidservant go free after six years of servitude?


1) When the Kohanim blessed the people with the specific brachos mentioned later on in Sefer Devarim, they would face Har Gerizim.

2) a) No.

b) Yes.

3) Nachalah.

4) No.

5) Excessive mourning, i.e., defiling oneself in mourning for a relative.

6) Evyon.

7) Yes.

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