Parshat Re’eh • Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

All life is a series of choices. Some are small: what to eat for dinner, whether to hit the snooze button on a Wednesday morning. Others are much bigger: continue dating this person or break it off? Go for the promotion or seek employment elsewhere? Yet no matter the size of the choice, each and every one we make has consequences. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, every action has a reaction and that means we must live with the decisions we make. For children that’s one of the toughest lessons to learn; recognizing cause and effect can be, for some, (probably all) a rude awakening. Ironically, we simply cannot move through the world without choosing but when we do, we have no choice but to accept its aftereffects. 

It is within the chapters of of Re’eh that Moses continues to present the people of Israel with a choice: a life of blessings or a life of curses. Urging them to choose blessing means continuing to observe God’s commandments in the unknown reality of the Promised Land. That means letting go of the temptations of idolatry and the false promises of anything posing to be greater than God. That means proclaiming true allegiance when they’re not sure how their move into Cana’an will go. 

It’s hard to decide whether or not this qualifies as a “big choice” or a “small choice,” and indeed, maybe it’s both. When faced with the unknown we humans often respond in curious ways; surely each one of us can look back on examples of this in our own lives. While some, faced with Moses’ proposal, might have reacted with assured confidence, others undoubtedly questioned the legitimacy of this setup. Why must one path only equal blessing and another only equal curse? Surely, there had to have been a middle ground. This is, after all, the messy experience of being human. There’s never one totally right or completely wrong. 

Perhaps the most significant element of this parsha is its name – Re’eh – which comes from the Hebrew root word meaning, “to see.” Choice – however complicated, however daunting – is often presented to us as an “either / or” option. No matter which path we choose – big or small, seemingly insignificant or perilously monumental – that choice illuminates for us a path. That path takes us forward or it takes us backward. It inches us into new territory or announces a grand move in a new direction. No matter the way we humans choose to go, I pray that we may be able to see that path fully and clearly, illuminated by the knowledge that we have done the best we can in a valiant effort to choose wisely. Perhaps that is the ultimate message of Re’eh. 

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen