This week in Torah, begins with the word r’eih (רְאֵה) “see.” We are reminded to see the world around us, and to see the choices of others and the consequences of our own actions.

The parsha begins with Adonai speaking in a construct that is not part of the English language – the second person plural. Unless you come from Brooklyn and speak in the language of “yous guys” or speak the southern “y’all y’all,” we don’t have a way to easily express the difference between speaking to “you” and a collective communal “you all.”

When we read or hear the words that begin this parsha in English we hear, “See: I am putting in front of you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing when you’ll listen to the commandments of Adonai, your G-d, that I command you today and the misfortune if you won’t listen to the commandments of Adonai, your G-d…”

Yet, in the Hebrew every time you hear the word “you” we must substitute “you all” or “community”.. so instead we would hear  “See: I am putting in front of this community  today a blessing and a curse: the blessing when this community  will listen to the commandments of Adonai, your G-d, that I command you all today and the misfortune if this community  chooses not to listen to the commandments of Adonai, your G-d…” 

In 21st century America a fair number of Jews will reject this sense of one’s actions immediately leading to rewards or curses from G-d. Yet, if we read it with the correct pronoun reference – of a plural “you” there is a somewhat different message.

We are being reminded that free will leaves us with two choices – the blessings, when we, as a collective community, make choices that take into account the impact on others and community norms… and misfortune if we make choices that destroy rather than strengthen the community.

From Torah forward, life is really “all about relationships.” What we do impacts other people; conversely the choices of others impact our actions, our feelings, and our lives. While we may not take literally the individual reward/punishment connection, we do know that when community members are intentional in their efforts to nurture and strengthen the collective whole and those who are part of the community, the community thrives in ways that go well beyond financial. The reverse is also true.

One of the “hot books” among Jewish professionals this summer is Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism. It is a wonderful book that I encourage all to read and to share and discuss with others.

Ron shares two important questions in the book. I want to share them and then add two more for your consideration. The first is a question often posed by Rabbi Sharon Brous, spiritual leader of IKAR, a Los Angeles congregation; the second comes from the work of community organizing.

1. What gets you out of bed in the morning – eager to face the day ahead?

2. What keeps you up at night?

  • 3. How do the answers to these two questions impact your work?
  • 4. And, as you consider your responses to the three questions above, what is one change you might make to sleep better and waken eager to engage?

These questions give me pause. They also make me eager to be in dialogue with others. I know I will be discussing them with family, friends and colleagues. I look forward to us starting a discussion here as well. I look forward to your comments and to us all growing from them.

Shabbat shalom.