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The Common Sense of Judaism

08/25/2022 08:17:58 AM


Beth Schafer

In this week’s parashah, Re’eh, we encounter the words, “See, I set before you this day blessing and curse…” We are offered blessings in exchange for obeying the commandments and curses if we do not. Interesting that the parashah gets its name from its first word, “See.” This is not unlike another verse of Torah, which also happens to be the defining prayer of Judaism, the Sh’ma. Sh’ma reads, “Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.”

Both of these lines of Torah did not have to open with a command to use our senses in order to communicate their central messages, unless of course, there is another message. While choosing between blessing and curse/life and death, or knowing God’s Oneness seems like important Jewish concepts, the words “see” and “hear” have their own message. They are actually about noticing and focusing. The message is clear: Judaism requires us to notice things. That is the “common sense” of Judaism. We are to notice when we have a choice between good and bad (or good and less good), we are to notice when someone is being discriminated against, we are to notice when someone needs help, we are to notice when something amazing happens, we are to notice big things and small things, things that affect us and things that affect others. These verses of Torah are meant to shake us out of our complacency, out of our selfish bubbles to which we so often retreat

This parashah asking us to see, begins the month of Elul, the month of noticing, in preparation for the new year. When we see our past year, when we look in the mirror of our days, Torah demands of us self-awareness. This kind of seeing doesn’t involve the eyes at all, but rather the soul. May we all tap into our seeing-souls this week and may we all choose blessing.

Shabbat shalom,


Sat, December 10 2022 16 Kislev 5783