Parshat Re’eh: August 7, 2021 – 29 Av 5781

Daf HaShavuah: A weekly digest of Parshat HaShavuah (weekly Torah portion)

Erev Shabbat

Friday, August 6
Candle lighting: 7:45 pm

Parshat Re’eh

  • Stone Chumash p. 998
  • 126 Psukim
  • Haftarah: Isaiah Chapter 54, verse 11. Stone Chumash p.1197 “Aniya So’arah”

Important Shabbat Times

  • Candle lighting: 7:45 pm
  • Vasikin (Sunrise): 6:16 am
  • Latest Shma: 9:42 am
  • Earliest Mincha: 1:43 pm
  • Havdalah: 8:43 pm
  • Zoom: 9:00 pm

Blessing of the New Moon

Rosh Chodesh Elul: Sunday and Monday, August 8 & 9.
Daily blowing of the shofar begins August 9th.

Parsha Highlights

Parshat Re’eh contains many themes, and 54 Mitzvot!

 Moshe informs the people of a new mitzvah, the blessings and the curses which will be given on Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eval, after entering the land of Israel. G-d will choose a place upon which they will construct a permanent Temple. After settling in the land, they will be permitted to slaughter meat for food according to the laws handed down orally. The rules for authenticating a genuine prophet, and disqualifying a false one. Many laws: prohibitions against self- mutilation; keeping kosher; tithing, the Sabbatical year; giving charity. A brief description of the Jewish holidays.

Lesser-known Torah rules

“Thou shalt eradicate idolatry from the Land……Thou shall not do so to the L-rd Thy G-d.” (Deut. 12:31)

The Rabbis derive from this last verse that one must be exceedingly careful not to erase the name of G-d, in any way. This is akin to the mitzvah of not taking the L-rd’s name in vain. How do Jews observe this mitzvah on a practical level?

When writing letters to friends or other correspondence, in any language, we are careful not to write G-d’s name out in full, but rather we place a dash or another symbol, or a letter (such as the letter hay), representing G-d’s name. We do so because we recognize that most people throw letters out after reading them, and the name of G-d might ultimately be thrown in the trash, G-d forbid!

In addition, a scribe who writes a Torah must declare, before each time that he writes G-d’s name, that he does so for the sake of the sanctification of G-d’s holy name. If he makes a mistake writing the Name, he is forbidden to erase what he wrote and then rewrite it. Instead, he must remove the entire column of parchment from the Torah, and send it for geniza (burial). However, if the scribe intended to write the name Yehuda, but accidentally left out the letter dalet, thereby willy-nilly writing G-d’s name, he may erase the final hey and add the dalet, hay, since he never had the intention to write G-d’s name. In the opposite case, if he unintentionally wrote Yehuda instead of G-d’s name, he may erase the final hay, and turn the dalet into a hay.

Haftorah: Aniya So’ara – Poor, Storm-Tossed

In this week’s Haftorah, G-d consoles the tempest tossed Zion, that she shall be rewarded for her faithfulness at the end of days. G-d promises that Israel shall be invincible: any new weapons that the nations of the world create will not succeed against her. Anyone who truly thirsts and hungers for the word of G-d will be satiated beyond his wildest imaginations, and many peoples will run to you seeking knowledge.

Parshat Re’eh Sermon

This week’s parsha contains within it the laws of kashrut – the list of animals which may be eaten, those land animals which are prohibited, as well as fish and fowl, which may or may not be consumed.

The funny thing is, weren’t we already given these rules just a few weeks ago? Parshat Shmini, in Leviticus, which we read last April, already provides nearly the exact same information!

True, the Rabbis are quick to point out that there are differences. There is an animal called the “Shesua,” which is not mentioned in Vayikrah and makes its first appearance in our Parsha.

Some birds, for example, are repeated because they are also known by different names. For example, the Ra’ah is a kind of falcon, and it goes by different names such as Aya, and Dayah, neither of which were mentioned in Leviticus.

But couldn’t Hashem just as easily have put that information back in Vayikra, and avoided the repetition? Re’eh is a pretty big parsha as parshiot go. Is this simply a matter of deja vu all over again? Or is there something deeper involved here?

Perhaps we may suggest that it is all a matter of setting. You see, when the Israelites sojourned in the desert and especially in the shadow of Mt. Sinai, they were inhabiting a brand new kind of spiritual existence. Manna fell from heaven, quail fell from the sky, clothing was always freshly cleaned and pressed, and, most importantly, the presence of the Tabernacle, plus the clouds of glory by day and shimmering fire by night, made the  omnipresence of G-d feel tangible.

In such a holy and spiritual environment, perhaps restricting one’s diet made perfect sense! The people understood that while living in this “Heaven on Earth,” where no work was required of them, eating less meat was indeed more. Why eat meat when you were each day reciting a blessing (Hamotzie lechem min Hashamayim — Blessed be Thou O L-rd who grants us bread from Heaven)?

However, at the end of forty years, when the Israelites finally faced the challenge of entering a new land, where they would return to eating through “the sweat of their brow,” they believed that the old rules were no longer appropriate. After all, in the ensuing years they might, as Moshe had warned them, find themselves exiled – spread out to the four corners of the earth and across the seven seas. In such an uncertain future, with no guarantee of free food from heaven, how could they be expected to observe the complex laws of kashrut, which they were able to observe in the desert with greater facility?

However, through repeating the laws of Kashrus immediately before entering the Land of Israel, and embracing their new destiny, however positive or negative it may ultimately be, a new standard would be forever established for the Jewish People. That’s why these laws needed to be repeated. The Torah was insisting that by observing kashrus we recreate the sacred atmosphere of the Israelites’ encampment at Sinai. It is precisely the opposite of what we thought.

Meticulous observance of the laws of kashrus can turn our homes, our offices, and wherever we find ourselves in our daily struggles into one big Tabernacle.

More importantly, our children are influenced by our self-sacrifice, and the holiness of Mt. Sinai is transmitted and maintained throughout the generations.

The Midrash tells us that when Queen Esther was waiting to be called to the palace of Achashverosh with the other gentile women in the harem, she refused to go to the royal spa, to be oiled and perfumed like everyone else. The Midrash adds that she also refused to eat any of the food save for garinim (sunflower seeds), the only kosher food available. Living on such a diet, you might imagine, would cause her to become sickly and pale, unattractive, and it would have totally ruined her complexion. Perhaps that was in fact her ulterior motive, i.e. to flunk out of the beauty pageant!

But in fact the exact opposite occurred: Esther was chosen from amongst all the beauties of Shushan. Achashveirosh noticed something different about her – something special. He couldn’t place his finger on it. But we know that it was the Divine Presence that rested upon her.

It seems that “Mitzvah gorreres Mitzvah”, one Mitzvah pulls the next; that Esther was chosen not simply to be the consort of this very foolish King, but rather to become the savior of her entire people.

Kashrut falls in the category of those mitvot referred to as chok (law), super-rational mitzvot. We cannot peer into the mind of G-d to discover its purpose, but we can know and feel that it endows us with the highest levels of holiness.

Next Monday we celebrate the first day of the month of Elul. What better way to celebrate than to commit ourselves to a more scrupulous attention to the laws of Kosher! May G-d grant us a spiritual and meaningful month of Elul, and may we be worthy to be blessed with a Shana Tova U’metukah, A good, sweet, and happy New Year!! Amen!

Shabbat Sholom
Rabbi Avraham Kelman