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August 14, 2020 – Re’eh

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

This week, I have felt this overwhelming feeling of being in a never-ending tunnel. Admittedly, there are moments where I find myself asking, when will I see the light at the end of the tunnel, when will things “go back” to normal? My guess is that I am not the only one feeling this way.

This week’s parashah Re’eh, in its opening line – offers a moment of pause and reflection.

רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה

“See, this day, I set before you blessing and curse.”  This verse is the reminder that I need in this moment.  God gave us choice regarding how we live our lives. I can choose to feel overwhelmed and cursed by the tunnel or I can choose blessing and take hold of the reigns and navigate the tunnel in the best way I know-how.

Since most of us were not around for the last pandemic, how could we know what life would be like during this time? We’ve had to make choices and decisions that we never imagined making, like not seeing family and friends, in order to keep them safe; not enjoying some of the activities we love in order to stay safe; not eating in restaurants; not sending our children to school; not being able to pray and do Jewish in a communal setting; and who would have thought that masks would become part of our daily apparel? And yet, even during all this craziness, that sometimes feels like a curse, how much blessing have we experienced? Slowing down has allowed many to catch their breath, to enjoy their children, to reconnect with family and friends from around the world through the blessing of Facetime and Zoom. Many have had the opportunity to read, to watch movies, to learn new skills, and to engage in educational opportunities for which perhaps there wasn’t ever much time. And yet, even for all the good and blessing we’ve experienced, I bet many of us are ready for “normal.”


However, my guess is that we aren’t returning to “normal” for a long time. I think it’s now up to us to figure out for ourselves what our new “normal” will look like, and the opening sentence of our parashah is just the “nudge” that we need to take charge, to take hold of the moment we are in and realize that choice is in our hands.

Re’eh, meaning “see,” is in the singular, which according to the Vilna Gaon, is so that each of us will recognize the importance of our own individual decisions rather than saying, “what is the difference if I choose a good path if the majority of the world behaves in an evil way?” (Basically, why should I do something if no one else is, or why should I be concerned and do something different when my choice won’t make a difference?) By utilizing the singular, this verse is speaking directly to us, as individuals, and giving us the go-ahead to make the choice that is right for us, regardless of what anyone else chooses. We get to choose how to respond to situations, we get to choose what our lives will look like, we get to choose our own blessings! The Vilna Gaon then points out, that the words, “notein lifneichem” “set before you,” is in the present tense, which means that this verse applies to us today as much as it did to our ancestors hearing them for the first time from Moses. In every generation, in every moment, God continues to place choice before us, and we get to decide how to respond. And finally, the verse says “hayom,” “today,” reminds us that each day, each moment is an opportunity for us to choose how we act and how we react.

While we may have weeks, months, and possibly even longer to go before we are “post-COVID,” parashat Re’eh reminds us that even amid uncertainty, we have been given the gift of choice. We can choose whether this time will be one of blessing or one of curse.Will we choose to be stuck and unhappy in the never-ending dark tunnel or will we choose to navigate our way through the dark tunnel finding meaning and blessing in the journey?

It is up to us, our choice:blessing or curse. What will it be?

Shabbat Shalom!