Parsha Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Re’eh (“See!”) and takes us from Deuteronomy 11:26 through 16:17. This reading consists of commandments governing everything from worship to dietary prohibitions; from finances to festivals. It also contains a series of warnings, principally that we not imitate the horrific practices of the Canaanites.
It is important we remember that these words were spoken while Israel was still east of the Jordan. There, yet outside the Land of Promise, Moses names the location of G’rizim and Eval inside the land, toward the direction of the sunset. Moses declared that upon those two opposing hills Israel had a pending appointment with Adonai for the purpose of reaffirming her commitment to the Covenant. There was a collective choice to be made, with attendant consequences. Moses said, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God… and the curse, if you do not listen…”
Included in this section of the Torah is a repeat of the prohibition against eating blood; a reminder that blood is sacred, carrying with it the life of each creature. Modern medical technology has enabled us to know more than we ever have before about the properties of blood. Yes, it is essential to life, and the loss of too much of it brings death. But more than that – in even one drop of your blood is contained every bit of information, every infinitesimal genetic code determining everything from the color of your eyes and hair to your innate strengths and weaknesses, susceptibility to allergies, attraction to certain colors and combinations of colors; even your particular yen for a piece of gefilte fish! How sadly ironic, then, that we know so much about life, yet have so little regard for it. Our legalization of abortion-on-demand in 1973 is every bit the modern-day equivalent of the Canaanites’ ancient practice of child sacrifice.
In chapter 12, we were commanded to utterly destroy every vestige of Canaanite worship; their altars, idols, sacred pillars; and warned in the most serious of terms never to follow their false gods. Moses said, “beware that you are not ensnared to follow them (nor) inquire after their gods… You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (12:30-31). Also, we were not to imitate their habit of building altars wherever they felt like it – “on every high hill and under every green tree…” Rather, Israel was to worship only in the one place of God’s designation. Briefly that was Shiloh, but the place which Adonai ultimately chose to establish His name was Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). The principle is this: you may not worship the Living God any old way you like. You can worship a rock or a piece of wood any way you like, because they are lifeless things; but God is real, and He is personal, and He chooses, and He has standards for what is and what is not acceptable.
If we have perhaps lost something in our emphasis in stressing a personal relationship with God as opposed to mere religious formality, it is the sense of the holy. God declares some things sacred and other things profane. I suggest we need awareness of God’s love and compassion but also awareness of His infinite holiness and majesty. Neglect the one and you’re left with lifeless ritualism. Neglect the other and you’re left with religion governed by one’s own fickle emotions and the pursuit of sensationalism.
We are warned at the outset of chapter 13 not to follow any so-called “prophet” or even a miracle-worker if they entice us to follow other gods. Capital punishment was prescribed for such instances, even if it involved your best friend, your wife or your family member. Say what you will, deterrent works. Known consequences for certain wrong actions are very effective in keeping us on the straight and narrow. This also reminds us that God must absolutely come first – even before friends or family!
But there’s another principle here: supernatural manifestations are in no way a barometer of truth. Satan is not divine, but he is supernatural, and if our faith is not rooted in the Scriptures, we are vulnerable to being deceived by false displays of power. For example, Revelation 13 says the false prophet who serves antichrist will miraculously call fire down out of heaven in public view (just like Elijah did), and will deceive many people. Just make sure you’re not one of them!
In chapter 15 we are commanded to have a release of debts at every seventh year. The Sabbatical Year was to be a time of forgiven debts and the setting free of slaves. It might mean financial hardship to forgive debts, but there are more important things than money. The accumulation of wealth is not the purpose for which God placed us on this earth. People are more important than money!
Speaking of money, in chapter 16 we were commanded that three times each year every Israeli man was to appear before God: at Passover, at Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) and at Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles); and we were not to show up empty-handed! Tithing of our produce, our income, was never a matter of our feelings. It was a commandment. Today some argue that because we are under the New Covenant, the laws governing tithing no longer apply. Assuming, for arguments’ sake that’s true, are we really to believe that in the New Covenant the standard has been lowered? If anything, shouldn’t we want to give all the more, and all the more cheerfully because we are all the more grateful for His having marvelously saved us in Yeshua?
In summary, what do all these commandments in parasha Re’eh have in common? I believe the idea connecting all these things is worth. To what do you assign value? The word “worship” comes to us from old English and has the idea of worth. Worship is not merely bowing down and saying prayers. Worship reflects assigned value. The measure of what you value can be gaged by the things, the people and the causes to which you give your time, your attention, your energies and your money. Worth is also reflected in what we are willing to cast aside, to throw away. Let us be sure we are valuing the things God values, detesting the things God detests, and cherishing the things God cherishes.