Re’eh means to see. Everything which you need to SEE in life, a recipe for life as a Jew is written in Re’eh. Can a blind person see? Can a deaf person hear? What is the meaning of seeing? If you were sent to a desert island and had a few pages of “Re’eh” with you, that would be enough to guide you in a Jewish way of life.
The first admonishment is to people who think they can see. You THINK you can see, but can you really see the blessings in your life? It’s not about reward and punishment for doing the commandments; it’s about opening your spiritual eyes to the blessings of life, and not “cursing” yourself with a focus on the material. Do not be blinded by idol worship- your cellphones, your TVs, your bank account.
“You shall be happy before the Lord.” Happiness, what an elusive concept, how do we capture and sustain happiness. Life is hard. The news is bad. Even in the Bible, where people read Yediot Achronot they got depressed. What is happiness?
The first answer in Re’eh is… strangely, kashrut. But if we are on a spiritual path, does whatever you put in your mouth bring happiness? is a suggestion to choose to eat only certain animals, not to eat blood and not to mix milk and meat. Eating is such a basic part of living. Like choosing between blessings and curses, we can chose a healthy, or spiritual path in this daily practice. The next suggestion is not to worship strange gods but to stick to the spiritual God of Being. We are admonished not to go to fortune tellers and New Age hocus pocus. The more you have easy “answers”, the less seeking, searching, reading one needs to engage in. The less seeking of a Seeing, Re’eh, with new eyes in the world of radical amazement. “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”― Abraham Joshua Heschel
In a continued search for happiness, which again is elusive, it is suggested that by giving to the poor, a good portion of what we have, caring for those in need- that is the key to happiness. Last year at this time I visited the “Abayudaya”, Jews of choice and practice of 100 years, fervent Jews seeking out good deeds for their neighbors, and praying every day, singing prayers to an African beat. They are subsistence farmers, and all volunteer with youth, women, education, the elderly. They can teach us a lot about giving to the poor, and SEEING the other and the beauty in life, while stripped down to the basic of survival.
The happiness of the Sabbatical year is two-fold- both setting free those who are enslaved and also treating the land, Mother Earth with respect and love. Freedom is a deep concept, marked every year by Passover which is elaborated on in the Torah portion Re’eh. Seek your inner freedom. Do not be enslaved to other people and always have sympathy for those who suffer. That is the great message of our people. The Torah portion ends with us counting seven times seven weeks until the holiday of Shavuot. If you make your time holy, sacred, meaningful, you are living the blessing.
I had a hand in initiating a national program teaching children with special needs for their bar or bat mitzvah, emphasizing that no one is limited spiritually. My dear colleague Rabbi Gadi Raviv asked his niece Aya, with special needs which prayer meant the most to her. She said, “Modeh Ani” (I give thanks.) He asked her why. She answered with an answer which sums up the entire meaning of Re’eh and the entire Torah. Aya, 12 years old, with special needs said, “I am grateful to Elohema, to God for giving me life.” Rabbi Gadi asked, and why do you call Her “Elohema?” Aya answered, “Because the person who gives without end is my Ema, and God too, so I call Her, Elohema.”
This is the meaning of seeing the spiritual. This is the meaning of Seeing and Hearing what is invisible, and yes, blind and deaf people can teach us more about seeing than a seeing person who worships and keeps all the commandments, but doesn’t see what Aya saw.
About the author:
Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green is a Jewish educator and Rabbi who was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 2009. Her work in social action and Tikkun Olam with children with special needs and other populations earned Rabbi Edelman-Green the Liebhaber Prize for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance and Cultural Pluralism in Israel in 2003; the “Woman of Distinction Award” for the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; and the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Israeli Society from Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 2008.
Rabbi Edelman-Green’s professional work currently focuses on Chaplaincy, giving pastoral care. She works at Beth Protea, and with the elderly, and at Tel HaShomer hospital offering support to those with cancer. She works with interfaith groups promoting personal understanding between Arabs and Jews. She also actively advocates for the rights of the refugees.
Rabbi Edelman-Green lives in Kfar Sava, Israel with her husband, Dr. Bernie Green. They have three adult children, Raphi, Shira and Ilana. She serves the Reform Jewish in Mumbai at the High Holidays for the last six years and has worked with Jewish communities in Stockholm, Moscow(with the deaf community), Prague, Vienna, Manchester-England, Los Angeles, New York, Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, San Francisco and the “Abayudaya” Jewish community in Uganda in 2017 and has remained active with them since.