This week’s parashah, Re’eh, (translated as ‘see’) concludes (14:1-16:17) with a detailing of the mitzvot that set the Israelites apart from other nations. They include but are not limited to: kashrut, tithing, observing the sabbatical year, the particulates of lending money, the treatment of slaves, consecrating the first born animal and then there is a review of the observances of the Yomim Tovim (Pesach, Shavout and Succot).
But wait there’s more. In a few days (the evening of August 31, 2011) we begin the month of Elul. This is a time that we have an opportunity to reflect on the past year and bring ourselves to a strong mental place for a good cleansing at Yom Kippur. It has been my custom to write an ‘Elul message’ for the past few years on some theme. The themes come from nowhere in particular – some germ floating in the air that landed in my brain. Prior years have brought my readers (blessed be their eyes and hearts) such things as: texting - the text giving new meaning to the magic of cyber shortcuts, writing our own story, everyday spirituality and the like.
I mention this to you because my subject matter this year is mitzvot in the form of our personal stories. The mitzvot that we are not only commanded to do, but that which draw us into the prospect of a good healthy place to begin our New Year some 29 days after the start of Elul. This parashah, Re’eh, is a great way to begin the Elul journey.
Look at the mitzvot that Torah says set us apart from the other nations. Time has past since our desert tour and they are still usable, if not to the letter, but in some form. Some manipulation needs to be done with consecrating the first born animal but in issues of the treatment of slaves we need only substitute our treatment of people (piercing of ears aside) and the rules are pertinent.
Among the many listings of mitzvot that one can find is a long list, (there are 613 – 248 positive and 365 negative) there are many that we are no longer responsible to do since the destruction of the Temple. Our days could be busy keeping the 77 positive ones that remain in our ‘to do’ list and the 194 negatives. Of those 26 can only be done in Israel and then there are some that women are exempt from doing. Some of them are natural to most of us. It would be a blessing to know that you are already mitzvah-ready and working. Some are harder and require concentration and some are obscure. I would like to recommend that knowing what is commanded of us and then following through leads us back to the opening lines of this parashah:
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of Adonai your God, which I command you today; and the curse if you will not heed the commandments of Adonai your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know…
No coincidence that this particular commandment is woven through the listing of the first seven mitzvot.
Next week I start the Elul writings and am delighted to send them unblogged to anyone interested. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and poof they will be there. You are not commanded to read them – you may delete them – send them on – chant them to some familiar tune. They are tidbits of stories and will be entitled “My Grandma has a Tale” and will focus on ways our mitzvot are prevalent in our daily stories as I trek through my mitzvah memories and make way towards the year 5772. Re’eh helps us get to where we need to go with reminders of that which makes people special - but only if they work at it.