Torah Portion

The Portion of Re’eh

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Bible Portion
The Portion of Re’eh

The Portion of Re’eh

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

This Torah portion focuses on changes which will take place upon the people’s entry into Israel. First, they are told to wipe out all forms of idolatry which remain from the land’s previous inhabitants. They are then told God will set aside a special place for them to serve Him. Moses tells the people how to deal with deceitful people who will try to lead the nation astray from God. He reminds the people of the laws of kosher animals, and teaches them about certain tithes. He reiterates certain aspects of the Sabbatical year and the pilgrimage holidays.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Worshiping God

Deuteronomy 11:26-13:1

The portion opens with a blessing and a curse, the former which the people will receive if they follow God’s commands, and the latter which will be visited upon them should they disobey. Moses tells the people that when they enter the land, they will stand upon two mountains, Gerizim and Ebal, and there they shall recite the blessings and curses. The content of each appears in Deuteronomy 27 and 28.

Moses tells the people that when they pass into the land, they are to wipe out the idolatry of the nations currently living there. Rather than copying their forms of service, they must worship God only the place which He will set out for them. In that place alone the Children of Israel shall offer their sacrifices, bring their first fruits or first animals, and celebrate with God. Should the people wish to eat meat, they are permitted to do so outside the confines of God’s place, provided they follow the laws which He set out, including not eating the blood of the animal. However, any food or wine which is sanctified may only be eaten in God’s special place, which the Bible later identifies as Jerusalem. If the Israelites follow these laws, Moses says, God promises to bless their lives in the land.

When Moses tells the people to seek God’s presence in His special place, he uses the noun shikhno. The term shekhina (the word for God’s presence) comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to dwell”, which the Israel Bible says reminds us of our close, personal relationship with God Who dwells among us. From this verse we understand the Temple Mount is the place where God’s presence is most felt on Earth.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think Moses specified — twice — that meat could be eaten outside the Temple? What can we learn from this?

Traps and Snares

Deuteronomy 13:2-19

Moses now describes a number of circumstances in which he warns the people not to be led astray. First, he warns the people not to fall prey to a deceitful prophet. Even if the signs a prophet sets come true, if he preaches against following God’s word, he is not to be believed. Instead, he must be put to death. The next warning is against a close family member who tries to entice one to serve idols. He or she, too, must be put to death by stoning; even though it might be hard to kill a loved one, the targeted relative must throw the first stone. Finally, Moses warns of the entire city that has turned away from God to serve idols. If an investigation proves the matter to be true, the inhabitants must be killed by the sword and the city itself destroyed.

In the course of his warnings, Moses tells the people that instead of betraying God, they should cleave to him. Since it is impossible to cleave to a non-corporeal being, the Israel Bible relates, the Sages instead understood the verse to mean we must emulate His ways. Just as God is compassionate, so must we be. We learn to bury the dead (Deuteronomy 33:6) and visit the sick (Genesis 18:1) from His example.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think the relative whose relation tries to tempt him into idolatry must be the first to participate in his family member’s execution?

Kosher Animals

Deuteronomy 14:1-21

Moses tells the people that as children of God, they may not inflict wounds upon themselves or tear out their hair as signs of mourning. Then, he reminds them of the need to eat only kosher animals.

Moses lists several animals which are known to be kosher, adding that those with split hooves which chew their cud can be considered acceptable. He also reminds the people that there are four animals which have one sign without the other and therefore cannot be eaten.

For fish, Moses reminds the people they can only eat those with both fins and scales.

Among the birds, Moses says the people may eat only clean birds, then goes on to list which birds are not kosher. To this list he adds insects.

Moses adds that any animal, even if it is otherwise kosher, cannot be eaten if it dies on its own. Rather, it may be given or sold to a non-Jew. He also tells the people they may not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.

The Israel Bible points out that being the children of God, the Jews are often held to a higher standard. Thus, they may not harm themselves as a sign of mourning, nor are they allowed to eat whatever they want. This is not to imply that the Jews alone are the children of God. After all, He created the whole world and all of humanity. Rather, He chose the Children of Israel among all His children to serve as His ambassadors, spreading His light to the nations. The unique commands which He has given the Jewish people are reflective of that special role. The Land of Israel is the place from which they are to fulfill that role.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think the Israelites might be forbidden from eating an animal that dies on its own, but they may give or sell the carcass to a foreigner who lives among them?

Tithes and the Sabbatical Year

Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23

Since the people will be entering the Land of Israel imminently, Moses details several laws related to farming that the people will need to observe. He begins with the laws of tithes.

Moses tells the people that they must separate a tenth of their produce each year to eat in the place which God has set aside for Himself, the place we know as Jerusalem. Whether it be a tenth of their crops, wine, oil or firstborn of their flocks, the people must bring them to Jerusalem. If they live too far away to carry their tithes with them, they may sell them and use the money to buy food when they get to Jerusalem. The tithes or their replacements must be eaten and enjoyed in Jerusalem, along with the Levites who otherwise do not have an inheritance. Every third year, the tithe is to be set at the gates for the sake of the Levites and the less fortunate, who can then partake. Those who observe these laws will be blessed generously by God.

Every seven years, the people are to make a release. This time, known as shmitta (Sabbatical Year), shall be marked by the canceling of debts against fellow Jews. Despite the seeming risk of canceling debts, Moses assures the people that if they follow the laws, God will bless the land so that nobody lacks. He also warns the people against avoiding lending money as the shmitta year approaches, for if they are generous, God will be generous with them.

Another aspect of the release in shmitta is the freeing of slaves. However, if a slave tells his master he likes his life and wants to stay in his service, the master must drive an awl through his ear to the doorpost as a sign.

Moses then details the laws of the firstborn of the flock which he glossed over earlier. These animals may not be worked, but should be sacrificed and eaten in Jerusalem. If it turns out to have a blemish, it cannot be sacrificed, but may be eaten at home by anyone, on condition its blood is not consumed.

Moses promises God’s blessings to those who follow His commands. The Israel Bible points out the linguistic connection between the Hebrew words for blessing, b’racha, and pool of water, b’reicha. Water, which refreshes, nourishes and purifies, also symbolizes renewal. In fact, the final stage of ritual purification is immersion in water. Similarly, when we bless something, we elevate its spiritual status. The land of Israel is repeatedly referred to as a blessing, teaching that is a source of both spiritual and material blessing for the world.

Points to Ponder

What do you think is the connection between the laws of tithes and the laws of shmitta that Moses juxtaposes here?

Pilgrimage Holidays

Deuteronomy 16:1-17

In keeping with the theme of traveling to Jerusalem, Moses now brings up the three pilgrimage holidays. These three holidays are unique in as much as the people are commanded to come to Jerusalem in person to celebrate. Not only that, they must not arrive empty-handed. For each holiday, the males of the household must bring specific offerings according to the abundance with which God has blessed the family.

The three pilgrimage festivals are Passover (Pesach), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Passover is to be held for seven days, and all leavened products must be removed from the household for its duration. It commemorates the exodus from Egypt. Shavuot is held seven weeks later for the same reason. Sukkot, Moses, says, celebrates the gifts God gives.

Among the pilgrimage festivals, only Sukkot is not connected here with the exodus. The Israel Bible points out that it is also unique in that it is meant not just for the Jews, but for the nations of the world. 70 bulls offered throughout the holiday in the times of the Temple represent the 70 nations of the world, serving as a message of universal solidarity in the service of the one true God of Israel.

The Israel Bible points to the significance of having three pilgrimage festivals. The number three indicates a strong bond, as it says in Ecclesiastes (4:12), “A chain of three cannot be undone.” Perhaps for this reason, the Children of Israel are commanded to appear in Jerusalem before God three times a year: to forge a bond with Him so strong it cannot be severed.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think these three holidays, as opposed to Rosh Hashana (Jewish new year) or Yom Kippur, require celebration by the nation in Jerusalem?

The Israel Bible Team

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