Dvar Torah: Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Re’eh: “See this day, I set before you both blessing and curse… for you are about to cross the Yarden/Jordan.” The Torah narrative, and Moshe’s discourse with our ancestors, shifts from a recap of the past to an acknowledgement of the immensity of the moment in the life of the Jewish people. The place of descent, or “yeridah.” that is the Jordan River was before us then, as it is now (though infinitely thinner given the water siphoning upstream and general pollution and overuse). This journey is a descent for the sake of a crossing that must be engaged in consciously if we are to live into our promise as human beings, and as a people.

Ibn Ezra, a medieval Jewish commentator, tries to reconcile the Hebrew singular “re’eh” with the Hebrew word “lifneikhem” (“before you,” plural) that follows in the same sentence. He suggests that Moshe is talking to each Israelite individually at the same time. Each person has their own vision, their own “seeing” even as there is a collective experience happening at the same time.

What would it be to really "see what is before us" as we enter the month of Elul – a time of inner preparation to take the annual journey to the Days of Awe in our individual and communal Soul? What is it to really see what our nation and our communities are really struggling with, have the potential to achieve together, and where alienation has fed hateful actions? Part of clarity is to see not only the immediate impact of our actions, but also long-term implications. What is the horizon-line for an attitude, a choice of words, a well-intentioned or angry action we may undertake? What are the meanings we ascribe to ours and others’ actions that affect the experience of being blessed or cursed in our day-to-day lives?

In the month of Elul, we have an opportunity to begin the work of return that the journey of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur invite us into and not wait for the High Holy Days to wake us up or prove their worth.

The Arizal in “Likutei Torah” speaks to the idea of “yerida” or descent to realize our potential in this parshah when he states, “A blessing is placed before you, often in the disguise of a challenge. Through your own work, the latent light is brought out and the depth of good is revealed, hidden in the challenge. We meet God half-way, becoming a partner in creation and feel we own and have earned the good we have brought out on the other side."

These words resonate deeply with me as I reflect on the challenges we face in our world today- especially in the face of recent White Supremacist public expressions of hatred, and the historic and chronic, systemic racism in our country. Then there are the challenges of the environment, immigration, healthcare, ecological upheaval, economic inequity, racism and racial profiling, hunger and poverty we face. Sometimes, the experience of God’s absence is more palpable than God’s presence in dark times, and we can feel more burned by the flame of experience that enlightened by it. So often, I have experienced in my life, and seen in world events, that struggles leave us blinded to seeing the inherent possibilities for growth and deepening understanding, solidarity and concerte action in a situation, and we are paralyzed, dispirited or consumed by the challenge.

In the face of terrible tragedy, and when anti-Semitism, homophobia and racial hatred is being spewed by our brothers and sisters, and even leadership and governments that build walls instead of bridges, or preach prejudice over unity, our humanity reveals its Godly potential again and again. Where once crossings and descents in life seemed frightening, we can recognize them as possibilities of also discovering incredible blessings, partnerships, and paths out of despair in the desertification of our spirits. Re’eh- see what is toxic for what it is and take action, see what is a blessing and nurture it.

I pray that as we count and treasure our days towards the Jewish New Year we are able to see ourselves and others more clearly and compassionately, and cross over whatever rivers of longing, expectation, disappointment, and fear that keeps us from reaching our places of promise or taking on actions for the sake of compassion, love, peace and justice in all forms. That is the Jordan I am committed to crossing this year. Will I see you there?

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