Friday, August 17, 2012

Parshat Re'eh - פרשת ראה

The name of this week's Torah portion is Re'eh, which means "see." After the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel, the first place that they stopped at was the city of Shechem. Moshe commanded the twelve tribes to split up and stand on two adjacent mountains, Mount Grizim and Mount Eval, where the Kohanim and Levi'im would express God's blessing to the Jewish people for fulfilling the Torah, and God's curse if they would instead rebel and sin.

We learn that these mountains, although standing near to each other, have contrasting qualities. Mount Grizim is alive with foliage and vegetation, while Mount Eval is bleak and desolate. (These mountains can be seen today outside the city of Shechem/Nablus.) Six tribes were commanded to ascend Mount Grizim, to the south of Shechem to receive the blessing, and the remaining six tribes were commanded to ascend Mount Eval, to the north of Shechem to receive the curse.

In way, it can be said that the blessing and curse are visually apparent on the mountains themselves, as Mount Grizim, the mountain of blessing, is green and verdant, but Mount Eval, on the other hand, is barren and accursed. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the symbolism of these mountains. Although both mountains are located in close proximity to one another, have the same sunlight, rainfall, climate and fertility, they are very dofferent. In Kabbalah, we learn that these two mountains represent two eyes. Mount Grizim represents the right eye of wisdom, from which emanates pure blessing. Mount Eval represents the left eye of understanding, from which judgments, even severe judgments, may manifest. But what does all this really mean? Together, we the two mountain ssymbolise the concept of free will that our Parsha begins with: "Behold, I have placed before you today the blessing and the curse." (Deut. 11:26) It is possible for two people to have the same exact potential, while one thrives and the other withers. We all must choose the path of blessing or curse, and what we sow is what we reap.

The fact that six tribes stood on Mount Eval means that there was a positive element to the curse. In Hebrew, the word for "curse" is klalah (kuf, lamed, lamed, hei). The root of the Hebrew word for curse, קללה - klalah is kalal - קלל (kuf, lamed, lamed) which means "brilliant, shining light," as in the term nechoshet kalal, "brilliant copper."

Thus, explains Rav Hirsch, while it may seem an expression of complete darkness, a curse is actually brilliant, shining light at its source. This brilliance can be blinding, making it impossible for us to understand and incorporate it into our consciousness. We all know the feeling when we get punished for something that we would have preferred to get away with. While we recognise the truth, that we ought to have followed the rules, we don't easily accept the logic of the punishment. In Torah law, though, there is a slight difference - the punishment is designed by Hashem to affect our lives for the better.

In fact, even though a curse is the result of transgression, it is not really a punishment or an expression of Divine revenge, God forbid. Rather, the curse that we talk about comes from a very high source. Rather than being an instrument of retribution, its purpose is to rectify the faults of those who have transgressed and allow us all to lead better lives.

Wishing you a beautiful שבת שלום.

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