Imagine the opening scene of R’eih (Deut: 11:26 to 16:17) in which Moses instructed the Israelites “you shall pronounce the blessing at Mt. Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal” (11:29). Israelites would say blessings one way (toward one mountain) and say curses another way (toward another mountain) as they journeyed past the two mountains into the Promised Land.
Moses gave the Israelites a mountain load of laws in R’eih. These were social/civic and sequestered/moral laws. Moses taught how it is “A blessing that you obey … a curse if you will not obey” (11:27 & 28).
What jumps out at the start of R’eih is there are actually two mountain-loads of laws because learning to distinguish one place to bless and another place to curse established a dichotomous mindset for the Israelites that readers witness until Moses’ death after eight orations (1:6-4:40; 4:44-26:19; 27-28; 29-30; 31:1-13; 32; 33; and 34). This dichotomous mindset that you and if you bless and curse compels discussion.
For example, in my own Washington Hebrew Congregation Early Torah group (WHC ET), we have had vehement discussions about one mental struggle in R’eih. Israelites that obeyed (11:27) all the laws of civic and social life to create harmonious living, on the one hand, only if they didn’t disobey the call to become anti-idol war machines and pillaged and scorched earth to everlasting ruin (13:17), on the other hand, must have struggled we concluded. Such WHC ET discussions are not unique.
Specific topics by chapter and verse include centralized worship “… site choose[n]”(12:11), dietary laws and avoiding “the partaking of blood” (12:16, 13:24, 14:3-21, &15:23), annihilation of idol-cultures (12:29), ending false prophets (13:4), and conditions of loan and indenture with the needy (15:1-11). Instructions to observe Passover (16:1-8), count Omer (16:9), as well as observe Shavuot, and Sukkot “Three times a year …. not appear before the Lord empty-handed,” (16:16), also are topics.
With each of the above topics in R’eih, Israelites are told to do this but don’t do the other; see to bless and see to curse. A continuously strengthened mindset has begun for the Israelites who deal with dichotomy. The result of practicing measured thought and action that obey commandments at the time of R’eih is not different than the result of practicing measured thought and action that obey commandments today. Results can be wonderful.
Here is one such result. I mentioned WHC ET as a vibrant Torah study group. It takes place early every Saturday morning at my Temple and welcomes all visitors. After the “Tree of Life” synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, we worried about safety, as did all synagogues. Our leaders gave measured thought about the secular community, which surrounds our city building, on the one hand; and the need for peace of mind and safety for our congregation, on the other hand (remember, dichotomous thinking). We decided to open our doors wider.
We started more Torah Study accessible to an expanded audience!
We realized flowing dialogue was one of the proven ways to stop violence perpetrated against those of different race, color, and creed. We call our (now very successful) program “A shot of Torah” and I recommend it to all of your congregations.
One Friday evening before Temple services, WHC opens its doors wide to the community - inviting one and all to join us in a brief half-hour Torah Study, hence the name “Shot of Torah.” If participants choose, they may come early for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. After “Shot of Torah” all are welcome to services followed by a dessert oneg. We warmly welcome guests, serve food and have a long (very long at WHC) table prepared for everyone attending “Shot of Torah” to sit together and listen to a clergy-led discussion of the weekly parashat.
A year has passed since WHC first decided to very publicly open our doors wider. As I consider the lesson of practicing dichotomous thinking introduced in R’eih; I recognize the actions taken by WHC after the shootings in Pittsburg were a result of practicing measured thought and action that obey commandments. What do you think?
Gabrielle is a retired Organizational Psychologist. She has been an active member of Washington Hebrew Congregation 36 years. Gabrielle served on the WRJ North American Board of Directors (2013-2018) where she is a life-long member of the Chai Society. Currently, Gabrielle (with her husband, Bill) is actively building the Village-to-Village Network in her Bethesda, Maryland community. Gabrielle and Bill have four grown children.