Photo Credit:
Rabbi Avi Weiss

The first word in Parshas Re’eh is one of the most powerful terms found in the Torah. In fact, God is described as a roeh on three different levels.

The first time the word is found in the Torah, the Torah states that after creating light or energy, “vayar Elokim ki tov – God saw it was good” (Genesis 1:4). Obviously an anthropomorphism. Still, as God saw, so do we have the power to see.

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On a deeper level, re’eh means to see in the sense of empathizing with the other. Note the description just prior to the deluge in the time of Noah. There the Torah states, “and the Lord saw (vayar Hashem) that the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (Genesis 6:5). This could mean God saw, with the sense of feeling the pain and horror that was unfolding, the wickedness of man whom he had created.

As God felt the pain of humankind, so too should all people created in God’s image empathize with the other.

There is yet another understanding – of ra’ahRa’ah could have covenantal connotations – God seeing with an eye to establishing and fulfilling His covenant with His people. Indeed, the first time ra’ah appears after Avraham (and Sarah were chosen, the Torah states “and the Lord appeared (veyera) to Avraham and said ‘to your seed I will give this land’ ” (Genesis 12:7).

Re’eh as used in our portion seems to echo the covenantal approach. Note that when God chooses Avraham, the Torah states, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:3). Similarly in our portion, the Torah states, “see [re’eh], I have placed before you a blessing and a curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26).

And just as Avraham first built an altar to God in Shechem – Elon Moreh –(Genesis 12:6) and his rendezvous with God reaches a crescendo in Yerushalayim (Genesis 12:9) so in our parshah is there discussion of how the blessing and curse would be put forth on Har Gerirzim and Har Eyval, which are in the area of Shechem (Deuteronomy 11:29). Not coincidentally, the parshah proceeds to discuss our obligations once we enter the land and come to Yerushalayim (Deuteronomy 12:1-19).

Thus, ra’ah has a threefold meaning – to see, to empathize, to covenantalize. However, when Avraham and Sarah were chosen, ra’ah was in the context of the promised covenant. God was the roeh. Here, in our portion, as the Jews prepare to enter Israel, it is in the context of the soon-to-be-realized covenant. Re’eh therefore refers to the Jewish people achieving their covenantal mission.

With the establishment of the State of Israel we are all a bit closer to the covenant’s ultimate fulfillment. The Torah’s words concerning re’eh as covenant should be carefully considered.

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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.