Choosing can be tough. There are rarely any do-overs on the big decisions, so you really can’t do the experiment and see which was the better choice. And besides, what kind of decision-maker are you, anyway? Do you consider carefully, think things through, and then choose? Or do you act on impulse?
The Torah certainly has a preference this week: Re’eh, See. No impulse behavior here. Take the time to see what’s in front of you first. That’s the operating principle in parasha, Re’eh. Torah’s telling us to look. And what is it that’s placed in front of us? A choice between a blessing and a curse. Naturally, Torah again has a preference, and considers the blessing option to be optimum. Once we move into the Land and get settled, God says, we should follow our very own Israelite God, not the other local gods that will be scattered about. The temptation is going to be there to dance with other partners, and God knows (literally) what the Israelites are like around other gods. So God lays it all out as a choice: A blessed life, or a cursed life. Seems like an easy decision; one would obviously opt for the blessed life, right? Of course, right.
Ok, but even if you do go for the blessed path, it’s not going be easy. There’s more to the process. After the blessing/curse choice is put in front of the people, God tells them that when they come into the Land, they’re going to have to destroy the holy sites of the people living there, completely wipe out the places where other gods are worshiped, and remove all trace of their existence.
Again, harsh. Seems pretty radical to have to wipe out someone else’s entire faith structure, just because you’re moving into the neighborhood. We have a hard time wrapping our post-modern minds around that idea. But if we step into metaphor-land, perhaps we can see (re’eh…there it is again) things a little differently. (And thanks to my friend Dan and a chance meeting at the holy Starbucks, for this insight. Doesn’t everyone talk a little Torah in the latte line?)
The Israelite people are at a place of new beginnings. New leader, new land, new way of life. No longer nomadic, they’re settling in. Think about when you started all over again at some point in life. Is it easier to begin when you’ve removed traces of what was before? Re-paint, re-move, re-possess, re-eh. Then you can see things in a new light, from a new perspective, and start to re-build.
Maybe after a while, you can acknowledge the Other around you, but it’s too hard at first. You’re wary of slipping back into old ways, old relationships, old behavior. So, maybe you clear out what’s around you, like a fire line, so the old flames don’t jump into your new life. The cleared land may look barren at first, but that means there’s room for something to grow there.
You know that the new way you’ve chosen is the right one, the blessed one, but it looks so hard from where you’re standing. You try to see ahead, sure that you’ll have to choose your steps carefully, avoiding pitfalls and rises that may trip you. So, clearing out things first makes sense, so your steps will be surer.
This Torah portion is about looking forward. The rest of the text is all about rituals, celebrations throughout the year, kosher guidelines, and even warning against false prophets. Choices about how you celebrate, what you eat, who you believe…they all take sight, insight, looking in and also looking out. Yes, the Torah certainly has a harsher way of putting it, but ultimately, choosing between blessings and curses, it helps to have a clear path ahead.