Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17
Re’eh begins by exhorting us to see clearly the choices that are laid out before us and to choose the way of blessing. This portion ends with a detailed description of the three festivals of pilgrimage.
RE’EH BEGINS BY COMMANDING each of us to “See!” — to open the eyes of our hearts and behold the world that has been set before us. This clear seeing is both our redemption and our blessing. Only when our vision is no longer obscured by false beliefs, fear, or the illusion of separateness, can we experience the freedom to choose the Blessing that is being offered to us. We are commanded first to SEE, because without that clear vision, it may not be possible to discern blessing from curse.
The vantage point of Deuteronomy allows us to see where we have been — “the long strange trip it’s been,”* — and the doors of possibility that open before us in response to our “seeing.” If we believe that we are powerless, if we believe that the Land of Milk and Honey is beyond our reach, then we will not see those doors of possibility. We will be stuck forever at the threshold.
WHEN I WAS a wild, imaginative youngster, passionately trying to express my visions of possibility, the grown-ups around me often responded by saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Intuitively, I understood that the process works the other way around. We usually see only what we already believe. And our beliefs are determined by the particular mind-state of the moment and our collective conditioning.
Re’eh tells us that at every moment, with eyes wide open, we can choose between Blessing and Curse. The blessing appears when we are attentive to the flow of God that pours through us. And the curse befalls us when we ignore that flow and instead “go after other gods that we did not know.” (Deuteronomy 13:3) The word for Knowledge, da’at, refers to the kind of knowing that is intimate. The same word is used to denote “sex.” (To know someone in the “Biblical sense.”) That God-force, which will open the possibility of blessing, is so close to us. (Mohammed says that God is as close as your jugular vein.)
THE GODS THAT WE PURSUE, the ones that are not intimately flowing through us and interpenetrating our essential self, distract us constantly. This predicament of feeling compelled to “go after other gods that we did not know” describes the mind-state of disconnection from Source. That state which sometimes manifests as addiction, despair, or cynicism (or just a diminished vitality), obscures the choice that is set before us. Instead of making that choice for blessing in each moment, we are compelled by an unnamed desperate hunger to be made whole, and then we make blind, false choices.
The freedom to choose between Blessing and Curse depends on our clear seeing, and our clear seeing depends on the mind-state that we’re in. Our mind-state is dependent upon how connected we are to Source in each moment.
The blessing of Re’eh is a vision of the reality that is set before us that encompasses and transcends all Duality. When we have accessed that clear vision, our choice is evident.
* “Truckin’,” from the Grateful Dead album, American Beauty, 1970, lyrics by Robert Hunter
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
THERE IS A GRAMMATICAL INCONSISTENCY in the first sentence of Re’eh that may hold the secret to our exploration of vision. The text says, “See, I have set before you this day…” (Deuteronomy 11:26) The imperative verb “see” is in the singular in the Hebrew phrasing, yet the “before you” is in the plural. In the journey of Torah, a mistake like this becomes a doorway. In the journey of Torah, a mistake like this calls us to face a spiritual challenge. What is the relationship between my personal awakening and our collective awakening?
We live at a time when our collective awakening, as communities, as nations, as a species has become crucial. As we confront the growing disruption of the global climate, the depletion of vital resources, the growing disparity between rich and poor, the rapid extinction of plant and animal species, and the spread of devastating weapons on our planet, it is clear that the human family must wake up and make fundamental changes in the way we treat each other and our environment. God sets before us (as a collective consciousness) the choice for blessing or curse. Yet, in approaching that collective awakening we are each addressed personally, in the singular. You personally must open your eyes. You personally are challenged to see.
WHEN I FIRST MOVED INTO MY HOME, which is quite isolated high up in the mountains of New Mexico, I did not know a soul in the area. So one snowy morning soon after I had moved in, I was very surprised and delighted to hear the doorbell ring. At the door were two tenacious Jehovah’s Witnesses who were quoting from Isaiah and vigorously informing me about the rewards of Heaven, and the punishments of Hell.
I invited them inside, took out my Bible and happily began correcting their translation and interpretation of scripture. I felt blessed to have company and conversation about what mattered most. Together we surveyed the blessing and curse that was set before us.
Then something happened.
As I listened to their talk of Heaven as some far-off place, I felt as if a veil across my eyes were suddenly dropping away, and all at once I could “see.”
“Heaven is right here,” I exclaimed. “Don’t you see?”
I looked into their eyes, and for a moment I could swear that their veils had also dropped away. We shared a shiny heavenly vision and then a minute later I saw in their eyes a cloud of confusion, the veil returning. They thanked me and hurried outside.
I believe the power of my “seeing” opened their eyes, even if it was just for a moment. As each of us rises to the spiritual challenge of “seeing” clearly, the singular vision we are given can affect the mind-state and then the perception of others so that together we can acknowledge the fullness of the Reality that has been set before us.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
The portion Re’eh ends with the commandment to make three pilgrimages a year, “to appear before God in the place that God chooses.” Those three pilgrimage times are Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. We are commanded not to come empty-handed, but to bring an offering “according to the blessing you have been given.”
Our vision gets clouded by habit. We begin to see our lives as ordinary and mundane. Every so often a pilgrimage is necessary so that we can awaken to holiness and open our eyes to the extraordinary, and see that “Heaven is right here.”
Richard Niebuhr says, “Pilgrims are persons in motion, passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.”*
EVERY PILGRIMAGE IS A JOURNEY INWARD, even if we travel clear across the world. The particular festivals that the Torah commands us to mark with sacred journeys are both agricultural and historical festivals. With our journey to center, we integrate these two aspects of religious practice. With one foot I walk through the blessed cycle of plantings and harvests. With the other foot I journey with my ancestors, re-enacting the drama that moves us from slavery to freedom. The journey is both personal and collective. With one foot I walk my singular path towards clarity. I open my eyes wider with each step, awakening to my personal destiny. With the other foot I fall into step with my people, and with spiritual seekers everywhere. My journey becomes a celebration of shared blessing.
OUR PRACTICE FOR THIS WEEK OF RE’EH is to let “spirit’s compass point the way,” and begin to open to the call of pilgrimage. We can practice the meaning of pilgrimage by making a small journey to a sacred site near home. It could be a shrine or a waterfall or a grave, a monument or a quiet park, a place significant for its History or Nature.
BEGIN THE JOURNEY CONSCIOUSLY BY BECOMING AWARE of your deepest longing, setting an intention for the journey, surrendering your expectations, and asking an elder for a blessing. Let every step of the journey be a spiritual practice, remembering that every pilgrimage is a journey inward. And you never know exactly what you will find.
WITH EACH STEP your eyes and heart must open a bit wider to receive the unexpected.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING AN OFFERING with you, “according to the blessing you have been given.”
The Sufi poet and mystic, Rumi says,
“As you start on the Way, the Way appears.”
* Quoted in The Art of Pilgrimage, Cousineau, Phil, p.14
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.