From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.”
Blessings and curses. Stirring stuff from the Bible this week as Moshe again cautions his congregation. The great prophet reminds them that living a life of goodness will bring them blessings, while ignoring the Divine call must inexorably lead to a cursed existence.
Moshe prefaces his admonition with the Hebrew word re’eh: see. See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. But why see? What is there to see? Did he, in fact, show them anything at all? The Torah does not use flowery language just because it has a nice ring to it and sounds poetic. What was there to behold? Why re’eh?
One answer is that how we look will, in itself, determine whether our lives will be blessed or cursed. How do we look at others, at ourselves? Our perspective, how we behold and see things, will result in our own lives being blessed or, Gâ€‘d forbid, the opposite.
The saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once chanced upon a strong, young man who was brazenly eating on Yom Kippur. The rabbi suggested that perhaps he was feeling ill. The fellow insisted he was in the best of health. Perhaps he had forgotten that today was the holy day of fasting? “Who doesn’t know that today is Yom Kippur?” responded the young man. Perhaps he was never taught that Jews do not eat on this day? “Every child knows that Yom Kippur is a fast day, Rabbi!” Whereupon Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Master of the Universe, see how wonderful Your people are! Here is a Jew who, despite so many opportunities, simply refuses to tell a lie!”
The Berditchever was always able to look at others with a compassionate, understanding, and benevolent eye. How do we view the good fortune enjoyed by others? Are we happy for them, or do we look at them with begrudging envy? How do we look at ourselves and our own shortcomings? Are we objectively truthful or subjectively slanted?
“He is a stingy, rotten good-for-nothing. Me? I am just careful about how I spend my money.”
“She is a bore of bores, absolutely antisocial. Me? I am a private person who just happens to enjoy staying at home.”
“He is as stubborn as an ox! Me? I am just very determined.”
Clearly, the manner in which we look at our world and those around us will have a major impact on the way life will treat us. Quite justifiably, Moshe says, “See.” For how we will see things in life will undoubtedly affect life’s outcomes.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880—1950) once told how, when he was a young child, he asked his father: why does a person have two eyes? The right eye, his father replied, is to be used lovingly, when looking at a fellow Jew; the left eye is to be used discerningly, when looking at candies, sweets, or other objects that are not that important in the grand scheme of things.
When I was in yeshiva, the same building also housed a synagogue, where we would often interact with the adult men who would come to the daily minyan. One particular gentleman, may he rest in peace, always seemed to us rather cantankerous, what you might call a grumpy old man. I cannot remember whether he was actually a bit cross-eyed or not, but we referred to him as “left-eyed Sam” because he always seemed to be looking at us students with that proverbial left eye.
The parashah that is entitled Re’eh, “See,” is a perennial reminder to all of us that even our vision alone can bring virtue or vice. Let us look at the world correctly and invite the blessings of Gâ€‘d into our lives.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.