Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17
“Re’eh!” calls Moses at the beginning of our portion. “See! I am placing before you today blessing and curse.” [Deut. 11:26]. There is nothing odd or unusual about this verse, or about calling us to pay attention, especially when the stakes are high. It makes perfect sense, until a few verses later, when Moses warns us not to trust our own eyes:
“Do not behave as we do here, today, each person [acting] according to what is right in his eyes.” [Deut. 12:8]
On the one hand, we are supposed to use our eyes to discern between blessing and curse. On the other hand, we are explicitly warned against doing what is “right in our eyes.” How do we make sense of this contradiction?
We encounter the answer earlier in Deuteronomy, “And you shall do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord …”[Deut. 6:18 – bold is mine]. To make sure we understand this idea in context, Moses repeats it our parasha:
“… when you heed the voice of the Lord your God to keep His commands with which I charge you today, to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord your God.” [Deut. 13:19 – bold is mine]
In Re’eh, Moses presents us with a progression of unfolding spiritual truth. Torah generally emphasizes hearing over seeing when it comes to paying attention. That is why we have Shema Yisrael instead of Re’eh Yisrael. In the opening verse of Re’eh, we are told to use our eyes to “heed the command of the Lord” to get the blessing and avoid the curse. Then we are warned not to do what is “right in our eyes,” meaning putting our own agendas and personal desires before all else. Finally, we are urged to “heed the voice of the Lord” – to listen – so that we may do “what is right in the eyes of the Lord.” In other words, we must open our eyes, listen for God and then try to see not only through our own eyes, but through the eyes of God.
What does it mean to see through the eyes of God?
First, to see through the eyes of God is to look at the bigger picture. Astronauts, looking down on our planet, have reported how this difference of perspective has caused them to see how petty some of our personal, or even national, disagreements can be. When we see through the eyes of God, we see that there is a higher purpose to our lives and are inspired to reach towards the potential already present in Creation.
Second, to see through the eyes of God also means to seek out the good. In Deut. 6:18 a word is added to the clause: we are to do what is right and good in the eyes of God. Each day of Creation ends with God looking at the result and declaring it “good.” One of the personal soul-traits in the Mussar tradition is hakarat hatov (seeking out the good). If we want to really discover all of the good which surrounds us, it takes effort, and often requires that we look beyond ourselves. Rabbi David Greenstein writes:
“Psychologists and social thinkers have pointed out that our eyes will see what we want to see, what we care about. The Torah understood that we can choose to see with a different set of eyes. We can choose to look for and to discern goodness in this world. We can choose to look at the world through God’s eyes.”
Perhaps this is what Moses meant for us to discern. Perhaps the blessing and the curse lie before us every day – waiting for us to see. Perhaps God is still waiting for us to choose.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras