Re’eh -The continuing series as inspired by Rabbi Siff and Josh Rubin on my thoughts on the Parasha with a Heschellian approach.
613 Celebrations 613 Events
How do we in our development as individuals, a family, a people, instill in ourselves and children a true sense of belonging, obligation, purpose, life and continuity? Celebrate everything!
On July 4 1976 Nan and I went with friends on a boat to the Statue of Liberty to see a fireworks extravaganza celebrating our Nation’s 200th anniversary. It was an event to behold, one that illuminated to all, the blessings of our free nation. An evening that indeed brought all Americans who experienced it in that manner, closer to our founding fathers and their vision.
On the opposite spectrum of emotions, every year on the same days as Jews we recall and relive the horrors of the Shoah and Tish B’Av. These also, according to the tradition, are events celebrated in detail, bringing to life the curses for our nation to see, to experience the darkness of our history, to also bring us closer to the episodes our ancestors traveled. Properly observed, these events penetrate our very souls enabling us never to forget, appreciate and protect our existence.
“See, I have set before you this day a blessing and a curse...” In various translations Re’eh is also translated as “Behold.” Sforno shares that this opening line tells us to – Look, to perceive your affairs are not average as other nations. As Rabbi Pelcovitz elaborates on Sforno – to see that we are unlike other people….our destiny is uncommon…the significance of Re’eh- to See or Behold something new and different.
As I have shared in other pieces Heschel’s approached his every moment with all his might, soul, heart and life. Shortly before he passed on an interview on TV, he was asked about his view on Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun.” His audacious response was something like “ I must disagree with Kohelet, (raising his hands in excitement) EVERYTHING IS NEW UNDER THE SUN, EVERYTHING!”
Later in the Parasha, we see the notion of “rejoice” in what the Lord asks- mentioned four times. First it says “eat before Hashem and rejoice” . Sforno, brings down it means we are to serve in gladness. Clearly, a connect to Simcha Shel Mitzvah.
In the instructions for the second tithe, the requirement is to bring the proceeds to Jerusalem and buy yourself wine and/or food. For yourself? Some of the commentators tell us that this formula is a form of positive reinforcement around the Mitzvot, a method to get one into the Holy swing of things and be impacted by the event through it’s details. To inculcate if you will, into the Holy way of life as a Jew, because it takes time to execute, you will be in the Holy City and in time the understanding and apprecication will come.
The seeds I have planted here, bare fruit to a fabulous and inspiring thesis Heschel brings out in a work “Existence and Celebration.” Here R.Heschel brings forth the notion that the Bible records and reveals a series of events in our history. These events in essence translates to mechanisms – Mitzvot in which to follow, to commemorate and to attach to the Ways of Hashem. The challenge is that we have transformed these events into a process of observance. To cite a few lines (you may want to dwell on these) from his essay; “To be a Jew is to be committed to the experience of great ideas….to act and to hear” In the approach to enabling the blessings, the Mitzvot, “We should be pioneers, as our fathers were thousands of years ago…that the future of all men depends upon their realizing that the sense of holiness is a vital as health.” “To integrate the teaching and aspirations of the past into our own thinking will enable us to be creative, to expand, not to imitate or to repeat. Survival requires that we carry our own independent dialogue with the past.” “Jewish faith is therefore, not a comprehension of abstract principles but an inner attatchment to those events.” “Our attachment is expressed by our way of celebrating them.” “Revelation lasts a moment, acceptance continues.” “Our task is to examine our attitude to our commitment.” “Biblical revelation must be understood as an EVENT, not as a process.”
“Processes are typical, events are unique. A process follows a law; events create a precedent.” “A process has no future.” “Our history is a drama in which both man and G-d have a stake.”
Bravo Rabbi Doctor Professor Heschel, you have demonstrated the third leg of Naseh Vinsishma- B-Simcha and that is to Do, To Hear (to learn as he would say) and Rejoice – Celebrate! To See and Behold each and every Mitzvah as a pioneer, as it is something new and exciting, as an event that we are celebrating with our own inner fireworks raging on. Imagine if we were able to for just a few moments a day….wake and say Modeh Ani….with the gusto and appreciation it deserves. To put on our Tefilin and witness with each wrap around our arms the trails tying us to a multitude of generations before us. To witness each time the Torah comes out of the Arc that it is Moshe Rabbenu actually giving it to us at that very moment. To truly bring in, as Heschel’s daughter writes about her father, Shabbat as an event, a major celebration! That our every act and every morsel we partake in, is a true blessing. The rest of the world chooses isolated remembrances, we, the chosen choose each and every moment to celebrate, to cherish, to cling to.
That attitude will be our fireworks on a constant basis to ourselves, our families and to the world. That would truly be the celebration of our lives, reason for being and attachment to Hashem. Think about that as we approach our preparations for Elul.