Parashat Re’eh is the forty-seventh weekly portion in the Torah and the fourth one in the Book of Deuteronomy (11:26-16:17). In it, Moses shifts from the retrospective and introspective tone of the previous three portions to an intense legal discourse. While Deuteronomy’s first three and final five portions contain a total of thirty mitzvot, its middle three portions contain one hundred and seventy new commandments! In the prologue (11:26-32), Moses explains that following the commandments is the source of all blessing, while straying from them is a curse.
In Chapters 12-13, Moses speaks about idolatry, but not from the philosophical or historical viewpoint. Instead, Moses contrasts the worship of God “in the place which the Lord your God shall choose” with the cultic practices of idol-worshipers, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” This is why paganism must be uprooted from the Holy Land and never allowed to return. While this particular lust was, according to Jewish tradition, eradicated millennia ago, the message is still a potent one, as the Torah warns that poisonous ideas may be adopted by friends, family members or even whole communities. These corrupting influences must be confronted; we must never be afraid to speak up for the truth.
Chapters 14-15 go from describing the dietary laws to the laws of tithes and charity to the laws of bringing firstborn animals “before the Lord your God, in the place He will choose.” This teaches a central tenet of Judaism: as important as ritual is, it is merely a framework to develop a more mindful attitude about one’s personal diet and the national economy. Thus, one must always think of the paupers and the workers as brothers and sisters, inviting them to partake of God’s bounty.
16:1-17 is the culmination of this vision, at the holidays: the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover in the spring, Shavuot in the summer and Sukkot in the autumn. “Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your gates… celebrate the festival to the Lord your God in the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.”
The portion from the Prophets is the third entry in the Seven of Consolation, Isaiah 54:11-55:5. In its opening, God promises to rebuild Zion, “And I will make your pinnacles of rubies, and your gates of carbuncles, and all your border of precious stones.” The term “your gates” appears fourteen times in the Torah portion, as a synecdoche for the ideal city, a community built on justice, compassion and love.