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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Re'eh

08/21/2014 04:17:15 PM


YIP Parsha Project

Re’eh                                   Nechama Horwitz & Avi Bass

As the children of Israel approach the end of their journey through the desert, they receive a series of commandments concerning their entrance to the land of Israel. The Torah describes these commandments in contrasting pairs: blessing and curse; foreign worship and God worship; holy and mundane. Israel must destroy the multitude of places where the previous inhabitants of the land worshipped foreign gods, and in contrast, the B’nei Yisrael must bring their offerings to a central location that God chooses. The Torah differentiates between life in the desert and entering the land: while in the desert, the children of Israel only ate meat in the context of a sacrificial offering. After entering the land, however, some foods could be eaten anywhere while other foods could only be eaten as part of a sacrifice offered at God’s chosen place.

These contrasts deal with centralization and the separation of everyday life from ritual worship. The theme of centralization seems congruous with other concepts in Judaism: God is one, and therefore His place of worship must be singular and central. The presence of private temples would create a fractured and unequal ritual that would not reflect the unrivaled nature of God. But the separation of ritual worship from everyday life seems more difficult to understand. Do we not want to bring holiness into our everyday lives? Are we not to sanctify the mundane?

Furthermore, why is this separation of holy and mundane discussed at the threshold of the land of Israel – is there something different about the new kind of lives the children of Israel will lead in the land?

Ibn Ezra and Ramban offer different explanations.

Ibn Ezra says that in the desert, commandments that had to do with the temple and sacrifice were not kept by all the children of Israel. Individuals did whatever they wanted; some people kept all the commandments while others did not. Ibn Ezra linkes observance and uniform practice with centralization. The decentralized structure of the B’nei Yisrael in the desert and the privatization of religious ritual led to lax observance. Even if we value the elevation of the mundane, we still need a center of focus.

Ramban offers a different explanation. When the children of Israel were in the desert they did not have any obligatory sacrifices, tithes, or an obligation to visit the temple for the three festivals. You brought a sacrifice when you felt like it, but had no obligation to bring one. In Israel, however, people were obligated to bring certain sacrifices at certain times of the year. They also were required to give certain gifts to the Kohanim and Leviim. Ramban links these obligations to being at peace. Why do these specific obligations start only once B’nei Yisrael is settled? When times are difficult, and your life circumstances are dynamic – like they were during the journey through the desert – it is natural to turn to God and to invoke His name at any place and any time. But when we are at peace, we are more likely to forget God. When the B’nei Yisrael are settled in the land, they must have obligations and designations of specific times and places for God and sacrifice.

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