Climbing the Blessing Mountain

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By Saul Golubcow

Special to WJW


This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17.

“Behold,” Moses opens Parshat Re’eh, “Today I set before you a blessing and a curse.” To represent visually this recurrent choice before the Israelites, Moses designates two side-by-side mountains. Now, imagine you are looking up at those two mountains. Toward which mountain would your gaze linger? “Of course,” you answer, “I would gaze toward the blessing.”

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But in making your seemingly easy choice, reflect upon the responsibilities and efforts Moses lays out as the conditions by which the Israelites, who are about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, will gain blessing.

To merit “blessing,” the Israelites must rise to the challenge first issued in God’s command to Abraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha. God tells Abraham to leave not just the safety of his father’s house and homeland, but to take upon himself the incipient Jewish journey. To willingly say, “Hineni — I’m here.”


Now Moses is challenging the Israelites to say, “Hinenu — We are here and willing to exert the effort to achieve our blessings.”

As a master teacher, Moses instructs the Israelites on the nature of these efforts. Repeatedly in the parshah, Moses tells them to bring sacrifices and offerings (prayers) to a centralized place of worship.

Why this insistence? Is Moses indicating that obtaining a blessing doesn’t come easy? Consider the planning and exertion it would take to travel several times a year with one’s family, produce and animals to join others in a community that worships together. But also consider the pride and satisfaction of having completed the journey and, as Moses offers at the end of the parshah, experiencing the blessing of joy.

Anticipating aspects of human nature that impel toward the “easy way” but away from the blessing, Moses draws a dire picture of what can occur by sacrificing “burnt-offerings in every place that you see.”

Separated from their community’s central rituals and conventions, the Israelites might become susceptible to the enticements of pagan religious practices and the lure of false prophets. Moses fears that apart from their own community who “rejoice” in seeking God, the Israelites will be “ensnared” by the perversions and abominations practiced by local inhabitants who “burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” What greater curse could the Israelites ever experience?

Moses also teaches that freedom itself is a blessing. But to be free, the Israelites cannot take fortune for granted. Their memories must link to the time they were slaves in Egypt. They must accept that “freedom to” does not include external defilement of their bodies or internally compromising the rules of kashrut by what they ingest. They must adhere to the obligations of observing festivals three times a year, understanding that freedom doesn’t exist if one is endlessly shackled to the mundane.

And while Moses commands the Israelites to take care of the needy through tithing, extension of credit, loan forgiveness and bondsperson manumission, these acts deserve merit only if the benefactor is free from “a base thought” of resentment.

Thus, in Parshat Re’eh, Moses poses the following to the Israelites: To find joy and to experience full freedom, are you willing to make the hard climb to the top of the Blessing Mountain?

Questions for discussion

Today, is it important for synagogues to be our central places of worship? Should one need to work hard to merit a blessing?

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