This week, we are reading Parashat R’eih, the fourth portion in Deuteronomy, the fifth and last book of the Torah. We are beginning to study the Third Discourse given by Moses to the children of Israel just prior to their entrance into the Promised Land. In this portion, Moses continues the conditional tone which he began in his discourses in Deuteronomy, reflecting Moses’s experiences leading the Israelites for forty years of wandering in the desert. In the opening verse, Moses sets the conditional nature of his message: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d, but turn away from the path I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.”(11:26-28).
Moses instructs the Israelites as they are about to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. In the desert, the dominant form of worship of Almighty G-d was through the act of animal sacrifice. Moses tells the Israelites that they must establish in the new land a centralized location for the performance of the sacrificial rituals. This instruction was not fully realized until the construction of the first Temple by King Solomon, three hundred years later!
Moses prohibits the adoption of any Canaanite rituals that the Israelites might encounter in the Promised Land, including a caution to ignore any prophet or “dream diviner” that might try to influence them away from their prescribed path.
The laws taught in Chapter 14 are the instructions on what foods may be eaten, and what foods are prohibited. These laws of holiness are the basis of the Kosher practices observed by many Jews to the present day, as a method for bringing holiness into daily activities.
After a description of tithes to be given by farmers, Moses reviews the catalogue of Jewish holidays to be observed by all: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. On these holidays, the Israelites are commanded to bring an offering to the centralized place of worship. This section is read from the Torah both as part of Parashat R’eih, and it is repeated on the days that these Holidays are celebrated.
Last week’s portion, Ekev, ended with the commandment to teach G-d’s laws to our children: the essential practice of Jewish education is stated for all to practice and implement. “And teach them to your children-reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.”(11:19).
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Z”L, who died this past Friday in Jerusalem at age 83, practiced this Mitzvah day and night for all of his adult life.
Rabbi Steinsaltz was raised in a secular family. He was influenced by a Lubavitch Rabbi to become a traditional Jew. Rabbi Steinsaltz began his life project of translating the entire Babylonian Talmud at age 27, in 1965. He completed this monumental task in 2010. The KI library contains volumes of the Steinsaltz Talmud. His goal was to make the study of Talmud achievable by all. Using his translation and commentary, one could enter the world of Talmud without a teacher! Random House published the first 20 volumes, and the Israeli publisher Koren completed this huge task. In the NY Times obituary, there is a picture of Rabbi Steinsaltz as he presented his work to Pope Francis in 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/books/rabbi-adin-steinsaltz-dead.html?searchResultPosition=1
My favorite Steinsaltz work is “A Guide to Jewish Prayer.” This accessible book provides a clear introduction to the traditional Jewish prayerbook.
Rabbi Steinsaltz taught Mussar-Jewish Ethics, emphasizing the need to avoid “Lashon Hara/Evil Speech” and gossip. He will undoubtedly be regarded by future generations as one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time.
As we read the final Torah portions in Deuteronomy, we are reminded that the High Holy Days are approaching rapidly! The pandemic has caused us to change our High Holy Day services in major ways.
This was a busy week for members of SHIR KI, our superb volunteer adult choir. Because of the unusual circumstances resulting from the pandemic, no choir anywhere is rehearsing together. For the coming High Holy Day season, Shir KI will form a virtual choir! We are preparing to record our performance of Psalm 150 by Louis Lewandowski. Each singer will record his/her own voice and image on his/her computer and smart phone. Ariel Wyner of Auri Productions will edit these recordings into a polished performance. This presentation will be included in our High Holy Day services for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Psalm 150 teaches that “every soul shall praise G-d, Hallelujah!!” Our singers will give voice to this verse through the most modern telephonic and computer technology!
All the Tilman’s wish you Shabbat Shalom U’m’vorach!
Hazzan David F. Tilman