Parshat Re’eh: Being and living the Jewish identity

“For you are crossing the Jordan, to come to possess the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, and you shall possess it and dwell in it.” (Deuteronomy 11:31)

In the words of Moses, the Torah repeats God’s two-fold commandment “to possess” and “to dwell” in the Promised Land. As we have mentioned often in other commentaries in this blog regarding this parshah, the land God gave to the children of Israel represents goodness as the commanding expression of the Jewish identity in all aspects and dimensions of life.

In this context, “possessing” the land means to make it part of who we are, and not simply a physical space we suppose to acquire as legitimate owners. The same thing goes to “dwell” as truly living our identity on a permanent basis, for in goodness all our needs and endeavors are fulfilled.

“You shall utterly destroy from all the places where the nations that you shall possess, worshiped their gods, upon the lofty mountains and upon the hills, and under every lush tree.” (12:2)

Interestingly, in regards to (the Canaanite) nations we can understand by the way this verses is phrased that they represent misdirected traits and trends that we also are commanded to “possess”. This misdirection is indicated by their idol worship, which means that our fears, doubts, desires, expectations and anxieties can push us to envy, coveting, lust, wrath, indolence and arrogance as gods or idols to which we devote our thoughts, emotions, feelings, passion and instinct.

We also have indicated that mountains and hills as “lofty places” represent the strong beliefs, ideologies or mindsets by which we conduct our lives. Certain “lush trees” are usually related to a sensual approach to life as well as alleged sources for human fertility. The purpose of God’s repeated warnings and admonitions against idol worship is for us to accept Him as our true source of life and fulfillment in all aspects of life.

“And there you shall eat before the Lord, your God, and you shall rejoice in all your endeavors you and your households, as the Lord, your God, has blessed you.” (12:7)

In this full awareness we are completely dependent on His will for every need we may have, including our daily material sustenance, health, intellectual and mental capacity, emotional and physical balance with which we achieve our plenitude and complete well being. Thus we also understand that goodness fulfills them all, for this is what God commands us to be, to have and to manifest.

“You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.” (15:10)

As the essence of God’s blessings, goodness is meant to be shared and enjoyed collectively. Thus we are constantly flowing with it, also as the source of our happiness. In this awareness we assimilate that goodness is not an expression we convey by giving material sustenance or relief to others in need or less fortunate, but the primordial principle by which we conceive and experience life. In this sense goodness is a state of consciousness as the land we are commanded to have and to live in it.

We also understand that in order to acquire goodness, first we have to learn it by being raised and educated within its ethical frame as the commanded lifestyle for the Jewish people. Hence we realize the meaning of the repeated warnings and admonitions against idolatry, for if we live by, in, with and for goodness, there is no place for the negative traits and trends in consciousness to which we referred earlier.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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