It’s estimated that the human eye can take in 10 million pieces of information per second, and that’s as much as 80% of our sensory impressions. So, it’s not surprising that this week’s Torah reading emphasizes sight. This comes after a couple readings where hearing is in the limelight, as in SHMA YISRAEL (Devarim 6:4), EIKEV TISHMA’UN (7:12), and V’HAYA IM SHAMOA (11:13). But the wonder of sight is only as great as what we do with it. As Helen Keller observed, ‘The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.’ Let’s see what our Torah reading has to say.
Before we get to the details of the parsha, I want to remind you, my dear readers, that our Sages arranged our Torah readings, and their contents, very carefully. It should, therefore, not be surprising that our parsha begins with, ‘See (RE’EH) that I set before you this day, a blessing and a curse (11:26).’ Then it concludes, in the parsha’s penultimate verse, with: Three times a year-the Feast of Matzot, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths-all your males shall be SEEN by the Lord your God in the place that God will choose (16:16).
So, our parsha is bookended by ‘seeing’ God’s covenant and being ‘seen’ by God. What is the point?
Rav Yoel bin Nun suggests (in the Akeida story, Breishit 21:8,
‘God will SEE the ram for the sheep for the offering’) that the term RE’IYA suggests choosing. Therefore, at the beginning of our parsha the Jew ‘seeing’ the choice between ‘good and evil’ is choosing the covenant with God. At the end of our parsha, God sees us when we come to Har Habayit (Temple Mount), and is choosing us to be our partners in the Covenant.
This idea is consistent with a Midrash (Sifri) at the beginning of the parsha, which informs us that this instruction to ‘see’ the covenant is a metaphor (MASHAL) for an individual who is sitting at a crossroads. Before this observer there are two paths. One of these byways begins smooth and easy, but later on the journey is filled with thorns and brambles. The other route begins with difficulties and obstructions, however, later, becomes smooth and passable. The observer sits there and tells all the passersby about the reality of the two routes.
The observer in the Midrash is Moshe Rabbeinu. He’s been telling us for thousands of years which route to take. In this world, those who ignore Moshe and the Torah may seem to prosper in the short run, but eventually they will regret that decision. While those willing to toil (AMEIL) in Torah and Mitzvot will, in the fullness of time, cherish that decision.
We’re supposed to have absorbed the lessons of the Torah having ‘listened’ (TISHME’U) to the command that Moshe enjoined upon us that day (verse 27). That will bring blessing. Of course, not heeding those instructions will bring curse and destruction (verse 28). The verses, by repeating HAYOM (today), is also informing us that Moshe’s declaration that day is equally true every day of Jewish existence.
This is the reality that we’re supposed to RE’EH (see). We’re supposed to look beyond the superficial appearance of the ‘road’ of life. What looks easy and effective by cutting corners and compromising on principle, may ultimately lead to disaster and ruin. What appears difficult and arduous, may well prove worth the effort and sacrifice.
Let’s jump to the end of the parsha. Thrice yearly we must visit the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim. Why? To be seen by God. What do we expect God to see? Our wealth and possessions? I certainly hope not.
We must expect to stand before God’s analytical glare which penetrates our façade to examine our inner reality. Just like God expects us to examine the inner truth of the world we inhabit, because there’s so much beauty and meaning underneath the superficial accouterment of the lives we lead, so we should come before our Maker expecting to lay bare to the Divine glare our innermost self.
God demands that we delve deep into the world we inhabit. Can we expect less from the Creator when gazing upon us? Let’s pray we withstand the scrutiny.