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Parashat Re’eh Strong Societies

Parashat Re’eh  Strong Societies

August 27, 2022

This week’s parasha contains two descriptions of Eretz Yisrael that one can connect to examination of the current land.  In Devarim 11:29 we read about the blessing of Mount Gerazim and the curse on Mount Ebal.  To this day visitors can see that one is lush with green vegetation and the other is barren.  When I first saw this, I was amazed that Mount Ebal is stall barren.  As we read last week, God promises blessings to those who obey the commandments.

In Devarim 12:29-31 we are commanded to not do any abomination like the Canaanites performs such as burning their sons and daughters.  From 1902 to 1909 Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister   excavated Tel Gezer.  He identified what he thought was a “high place” dedicated to child sacrifice.  (see William Dever article: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/the-high-place-at-tel-gezer/  ) While Macalister’s findings were questioned as early as 1910 , [i]the jars he found with infant skeletons and burn marks are close to the Biblical descriptions.  Macalister claims the “high place” belong to a non-Semitic race that pre-dated Israelite settlement. In the Gezer excavations there were many ruins of stone objects, but don’t know when they were destroyed. If they were purposely shattered, it is evident that the Israelites followed the commandments to destroy anything connected to idolatry. Since archeologists disagree, I can’t really offer a final opinion, but artifacts do seem to support the Biblical text.

The set of laws concerning food also set us aside for holiness and separation from the idolaters.  Unclean animals are an abomination.  Some permitted animals are enumerated, and some follow the rules of chewing the cud and having cloven, divided hooves. The lists that we are permitted to eat cattle, goats, and sheep and antelopes but not camels, rabbits and badgers.

The business lesson comes from the contrast between a strict market economy and socialist economy.  A market economy will make some people very rich and some very poor.  To help distribute the wealth, we are commanded to give certain offering to the poor including droppings from the field, tithing and shimitah.  The parshah has at least four kinds of laws – 1) Religious institutions (where one can worship); 2) Government (setting up of a justice system);   3) Criminal law (theft and torts); 4) Domestic life (interpersonal relations) ; 5) Ritual laws (laws of what one does or not do on Shabbat and holidays, prayers, and tithes.) While that organization has no ritual laws the other laws may find an application in the organization.

Reminder – Elul, the season of preparation starts on Sunday.  Today and Sunday are Rosh Hodesh. The haftorah for Shabbat is the one for Rosh Hodesh, which contains words of hope and consolation.

Discussion questions

  1. How does tithing and shemitah make a difference? How does one strategically give tzedakah or monetary help with dignity to the ones in need?
  2. What are the pros and cons for individualism versus communal responsibility? What is the balance between selfish and selfless behavior?
  3. Which helps a democratic society better – public spirit and helpfulness for the community or rugged individualism?

 

 

 

 

[i] See Jar-Burial Customs and the Question of Infant Sacrifice in Palestine by W.H. Wood https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/474370  in Biblical World 1910.

About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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