Israel Drazin

Why do we need to see?

The weekly biblical portion Re’eh (11:26-16:17) begins with Moses saying, “See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing is if you keep the commands of Y-h-v-h your God that I command you today. The curse if you do not keep the command of Y-h-v-h your God and turn aside from the way I command you today and go after other gods you have not known.” This could be understood as, “Take a look at the benefits God has placed in this world for you. You will enjoy life if you see and follow these natural laws and what is before you. But if you ignore them, you do so at your peril.” The laws that follow Moses’ introduction reflect this introduction. If you observe God’s laws, you will have an enjoyable, healthful, friendly, and satisfying life where people and society can be all they can be.   

  • I dramatized this message in the past with a short drama I composed. It went something like this. A dignified bearded man in a black jacket and pants, with a black broad-brimmed hat, died. He was summoned before God. “I have a question for you, Hayim,” God said. “Yes, sir,” Hayim replied, somewhat overawed. “How did you live your life?” God continued. “Well, sir,” Hayim responded, “I recognized that a pious person does not seek pleasure. I never drank wine, walked in gardens admiring flowers, ate sweets and most fruits. I spent most of my days reading and rereading the Talmud and praying at the synagogue.” There was a moment of silence. Then God spoke in anger. “After careful deliberation, I created a pleasurable world for humans to enjoy. I gave them red and white wine with pleasing colors, smells, and tastes that wine experts appreciate before drinking. I gave fruits delightful colors to attract people and did the same for flowers. Yet, you, Hayim, insult me by rejecting my gifts!” God then surprised Hayim by slapping his face hard. And surprised him even more by what He did next.
  • I have another story. My grandfather Aaron Drazin of Montreal, Canada, died in 1948, leaving large sums of money to three charities in Israel and requesting burial there. A war began in Israel when the new State was formed in 1948, and we could not bury him until 1951. Many family members came to Israel for the burial. While there, my dad, a highly respected scholar, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, took me with him when he visited prominent rabbis. I was age 15 at the time. When we were with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Herzog, I requested that he place his autograph on a Lira note, the Israeli currency in 1951. Rabbi Herzog said he was not allowed to do so because of the Jewish law of bal tashhish, which prohibits the unnecessary destruction of items. I responded that the opposite was true. If he didn’t sign the note, it would deteriorate in years and be destroyed. If he signs it, it will be saved as a treasure. He laughed, called in the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, and told him the story. He and my dad also laughed. And Rabbi Herzog signed the 100 Lira bill. All three realized they must think, look at the situation before deciding, and only then act.
  • One more story. My dad wrote a book called Legends Worth Living. The book contains 36 beautiful tales with significant morals. One is about a man with a prophetic dream in which he is told that a barrel of gold is buried for him and that he should dig it up. He traveled to many lands looking for gold, never realizing it was at home in his garden. Like many people, he failed to think, look, and then act. This was one teaching of Moses the lawgiver who gave it to his generation and us.
  • Among the many laws in Re’eh is the restriction to bring sacrifices only at “the place that Y-h-v-h will choose.” A law repeated six times in 12: 5, 11, 14, 18, 21, and 26. Six is twice three and seems to be repeated so often for emphasis. The Bible states that King David, not God, chose Jerusalem as the site for the temple. This is another indication that Maimonides was correct in his Guide 2:48 that when the Torah states God did something, it was not performed by Him. It is attributed to God because God created or formed the world, which made the act possible. Additionally, the restriction supports the view that the Bible adds hints through regulations that show that God neither needs nor wants sacrifices. They were allowed because Jews felt they should offer them.
  • The portion also repeats the obligation not to eat blood thrice in 12: 16, 23, and 27. It emphasizes that blood symbolizes life, and the prohibition teaches that we must respect all life.
  • Moses warns his people not to copy the practices of the nations twice, in 12:30 and 31. He did so also in former portions. An example of a pagan ritual to be avoided – making baldness between the eyes as mourning for the dead – is discussed as a third instance in 14: 1 and 2.
  • He tells them not to add to nor diminish any biblical command in 13:1, which the rabbis interpreted in Midrash Siphre to apply to only specific laws, such as the four statements in the priestly blessing.
  • He alerts them that false prophets will mislead them in 13:2 and 4, as well as a third time with similar laws concerning fellow Israelites doing it in 13:7 through 19. These events occurred frequently in Jewish history; many have been misled and died.
  • Moses speaks about animals the Israelites are forbidden to eat in 14:3-21. Maimonides writes in his Guide that one reason for these laws is to preserve health.
  • The figure of speech law, “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” is repeated in three biblical portions: Exodus 2:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 21.
  • Scholars maintain that it refers “to a common peasant farmer’s tactic for resisting oppression: the practice of secretly making up a portion of the yearly rent obligation—when possible—with surplus grain from the previous year’s harvest. Two ideas create the points of contact for the metaphor: (1) the idea of mixing of parent and child generations, and (2) the idea of going back to get a second contribution from the parent which has already paid its obligation by contributing its offspring.” (J. Webb Mealy, Online Publication, Brill Publishers, 2012.)
  • Maimonides states in his Guide that it was a pagan practice that should be avoided.
  • It is also possible that the prohibition makes us sensitive to the feelings of animals. We must be so careful about animal feelings that we do not even kill a mother animal and child together.
  • Maimonides felt strongly that animals have feelings. Nachmanides disagreed. The two agreed that the biblical laws about treating animals kindly train people to treat other humans as they want others to treat them. The rabbis and scholars noted that God/nature placed behaviors in animals that will teach humans lessons.
  • Laws about holidays follow. The holidays have many ideas within them. The most important is the Shabbat. It teaches everything. As my dad told me in 1951 when he drove me to the airport for my first military assignment, “Remember, son, to keep the Shabbat. More than you keeping the Shabbat, the Shabbat will keep you.”
About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.