The Torah/Re'eh

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Summary[edit]

Mount Gerizim

As told in Deuteronomy 15:19–16:17, this is the story of the Torah reading Re'eh:

Blessing and curse[edit]

Moses told the Israelites that he set before them blessing and curse: blessing if they obeyed God’s commandments and curse if they did not obey but turned away to follow other gods. Moses directed that when God brought them into the land, they were to pronounce the blessings at Mount Gerizim and the curses at Mount Ebal.

Centralized worship[edit]

Moses instructed the Israelites in the laws that they were to observe in the land: They were to destroy all the sites at which the residents worshiped their gods. They were not to worship God as the land’s residents had worshiped their gods, but to look only to the site that God would choose. There they were to bring their offerings and feast before God, happy in all God’s blessings. Moses warned them not to sacrifice burnt offerings in any place, but only in the place that God would choose. But whenever they desired, they could slaughter and eat meat in any of their settlements, so long as they did not consume the blood, which they were to pour on the ground. They were not, however, to consume in their settlements their tithes, firstlings, vow offerings, freewill offerings, or contributions; these they were to consume along with their children, slaves, and local Levites in the place that God would choose.

14th-12th century B.C.E. bronze figurine of the Canaanite god Baal, found in Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), now at the Louvre
7th century B.C.E. alabaster Phoenician figure probably of the Canaanite goddess Astarte, now at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain

Not following other gods[edit]

Moses warned them against being lured into the ways of the residents of the land, and against inquiring about their gods, for the residents performed for their gods every abhorrent act that God detested, even offering up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods.

Moses warned the Israelites carefully to observe only that which he enjoined upon them, neither adding to it nor taking away from it. If a prophet appeared before them and gave them a sign or a portent and urged them to worship another god, even if the sign or portent came true, they were not to heed the words of that prophet, but put the offender to death. If a brother, son, daughter, wife, or close friend enticed one in secret to worship other gods, the Israelites were to show no pity, but stone the offender to death. And if they heard that some scoundrels had subverted the inhabitants of a town to worship other gods, the Israelites were to investigate thoroughly, and if they found it true, they were to destroy the inhabitants and the cattle of that town, burning the town and everything in it. Moses prohibited the Israelites from gashing themselves or shaving the front of their heads because of the dead.

Kashrut[edit]

Moses prohibited the Israelites from eating anything abhorrent. Among land animals, they could eat ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, mountain sheep, and any other animal that has true hoofs that are cleft in two and chews cud. But the Israelites were not to eat or touch the carcasses of camel, hare, daman, or swine. Of animals that live in water, they could eat anything that has fins and scales, but nothing else. They could eat any clean bird, but could not eat eagle, vulture, black vulture, kite, falcon, buzzard, raven, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, hawk, owl, pelican, bustard, cormorant, stork, heron, hoopoe, or bat. They could not eat any winged swarming things. They could not eat anything that had died a natural death, but they could give it to the stranger or you sell it to a foreigner. They could not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Tithes[edit]

They were to set aside every year a tenth part of their harvest. They were to consume the tithes of their new grain, wine, and oil, and the firstlings of their herds and flocks, in the presence of God in the place where God would choose. If the distance was too great, they could convert the tithes or firstlings into money, take the proceeds to the place that God had chosen, and spend the money and feast there. They were not to neglect the Levite in their community, for the Levites had no hereditary portion of land. Every third year, they were to take the full tithe, but leave it within their settlements, and the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in their settlements could come and eat.

The Year of Jubilee (painting by Henry Le Jeune)

The Sabbatical year[edit]

Every seventh year, the Israelites were to remit debts from fellow Israelites, although they could continue to dun foreigners. There would be no needy among them if only they kept all God’s laws, for God would bless them. But if one of their kinsmen fell into need, they were not to harden their hearts, but were to open their hands and lend what the kinsman needed. The Israelites were not to harbor the base thought that the year of remission was approaching and not lend, but they were to lend readily to their kinsman, for in return God would bless them in all their efforts.

The Hebrew slave[edit]

If a fellow Hebrew was sold into servitude, the Hebrew slave would serve six years, and in the seventh year go free. When the master set the slave free, the master was to give the former slave parting gifts. Should the slave tell the master that the slave did not want to leave, the master was to take an awl and put it through the slave’s ear into the door, and the slave was to become the master’s slave in perpetuity.

The firstling[edit]

The Israelites were to consecrate to God all male firstlings born in their herds and flocks and eat them with their household in the place that God would choose. If such an animal had a defect, the Israelites were not to sacrifice it, but eat it in their settlements, as long as they poured out its blood on the ground.

Three pilgrim festivals[edit]

Moses instructed the Israelites to observe Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Three times a year, on those three festivals, all Israelite men were to appear in the place that God would choose, each with his own gift, according to the blessing that God had bestowed upon him.

Questions[edit]

Here are a few of the questions that the Rabbis raised about this Torah reading:

What does Moses mean (in Deuteronomy 11:26) by setting before us a blessing and a curse?[1]

Why did the Torah centralize sacrifices at a single sanctuary?[2]

How and when was the centralization of sacrifices implemented?[3]

Why does the Torah call a false prophet a “prophet” at all (in Deuteronomy 13:2–6)?[4]

How could a prophet of other gods perform a sign or wonder that actually came to pass (as Deuteronomy 13:2–3 seems to imply)?[5]

How can we, mere mortals, walk in God’s ways (as Deuteronomy 13:5 requires)?[6]

What was the law of the apostate town all about?[7]

Was there ever an apostate town? If not, why does the Torah include the discussion?[8]

Why do we read the law of tithes when the eighth day of Passover falls on a Sabbath?

How important is a wife?[9]

When was one obliged to remove tithes?[10]

How did the cancellation of debts in the Sabbatical year work out?[11]

What duty to the poor does Deuteronomy 15:7–8 require of us?[12]

How is disregard for the poor like idolatry?[13]

How well did the Torah require one to treat a servant?[14]

Which Festival begins each of the Torah’s list of Festivals?[15]

What is the role of wine in the Festivals?[16]

Notes[edit]

  1. Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:4.
  2. Josephus, Against Apion 2:24(193); JPS Torah Commentary, Excursus 14.
  3. 2 Kings 23:1–25; 2 Chronicles 34:1–33; Mishnah Zevachim 14:4–8; Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 112b.
  4. Nehama Leibowitz. Studies in Devarim: Deuteronomy, 125–34. Jerusalem: The World Zionist Organization, 1980.
  5. Rabbi Akiva in Sifre to Deuteronomy 84:1:3. Land of Israel, circa 250–350 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:233. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. ISBN 1-55540-145-7.
  6. Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a.
  7. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 111b–13b.
  8. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 71a.
  9. Genesis Rabbah 17:2.
  10. Jerusalem Talmud Maaser Sheni 53a.
  11. Mishnah Sheviit chapter 10.
  12. Leviticus Rabbah 34:9; Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 67b.
  13. Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 68a.
  14. Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 22a.
  15. Babylonian Talmud Yoma 2b.
  16. Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 109a.