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Torah Portion: Re’eh

Book of Deuteronomy

Chaps. 11:26-16:17

September 2, 2016

            Rabbi David Gelfand writes, “In William Styron’s haunting novel Sophie’s Choice, we encounter one of contemporary literature’s most frightening moments. In the midst of the hell of Auschwitz, Sophie must make the most horrible choice a parent could possibly confront: which child will live, and which child will die? The core of her being exploding, she screams louder and louder, “I can’t choose! I can’t choose!” Threatened with the real possibility that both children will be killed, she blurts out, “Take the baby! Take my little girl.”

“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.” Deut. 11:26

            What distinguishes humankind from the animal world is our ability to make decisions based on a set of morals and values. The Torah is a value-laden guide to making right choices not merely based on scriptural pronouncement but on a set of moral/ethical standards that illuminate the path to a right choice.

A religious doctrine teaching freedom of choice is the foundation upon which Judaism rests. Rabbi Gelfand notes, “Hindus see humankind tied to a wheel of karma. Muslims are ruled by kismet (fate) and have no real choice other than to submit to Allah’s will.” The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania) taught, “I set before you” is written in the present tense and not, as one might expect, in the past-“I have set before you.” Every day of our lives, God continually gives us choices. Each day, each hour, each minute, each second, we are given choices for blessings and curses.”

Styron’s fictional character Sophie faced the most horrendous of all choices. The choices we face on a daily basis pale in comparison, but may be no less challenging. The atheist relies upon the secular world of science in decision-making. The religious fundamentalist relies on God to show the way. The Jew, informed by science and instructed by God, bears the responsibility for making the choice.

The Etz Hayim Humash commentary writes, “At our best, we are greater than the angels, who do not have to overcome temptation and apathy. At our worst, we are less than beasts. Their destructiveness is part of their nature; human cruelty is the result of choice.”

God’s message in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Study Torah and choose wisely!”

Rabbi Howard Siegel

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