Parshat Re’eh

Family harvesting fruit
Devarim 11:26

See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.

Pay good attention so that you will not be like the nations of the world who relate to everything half-heartedly, always trying to find middle ground. Remember that I present you this day with the choice of two extremes, opposites. The blessing is an extreme in that it provides you with more than you need, whereas the curse is another extreme making sure that you have less than your basic needs. You have the choice of both before you; all you have to do is make a choice.

Is it difficult to make choices? Rabbi Wolbe notes that Solomon, the wisest of men made poor choices.

Are our biggest choices made rationally? For example, making a major career change, deciding to start a family, or adopting a religion: how are these decisions made?

In many aspects of Mussar practice and Jewish thought, we are taught to find a middle way — finding a balance, for example, between excessive emotionalism and coldness. What kind of choices require decisive actions?

Devarim 15:7-8
If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your heart against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.

A key part of the mitzvah is “for whatever he needs.” It’s not saying money and it’s not saying what he desires. What makes someone needy? How do you know what they need?

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
Kindness is not limited to fulfilling another’s request for help. The title ba’al chesed is reserved for one who has the ability to discern what is needed without the request being made, and then fulfills that desire.

However, kindness is not restricted to monetary donations. A smile can uplift someone who is dejected and words of encouragement can bring another real happiness. These are such small actions that could have such big ramifications. These are merely two of many kindnesses that we have the ability to perform – if we just took notice of what people are missing!

Everyone appreciates a compliment, and almost anyone you come in contact with benefits from a good word or a cheerful smile. So do a chessed that takes no time or money and make a point of complimenting or encouraging someone – today (and every day)!

Why might it be important to have an open heart to truly recognize another person’s needs?

Devarim 16:13-16 (Alter)
A festival of huts you shall make for yourself seven days, when you gather in from your threshing floor and from your wine press. [The holiday of Sukkot at harvest time.] And you shall rejoice in your festival, you and your sons and your daughter and your male slave and your slavegirl and the Levite and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates. Seven days you shall celebrate to the LORD your God in the place that the LORD chooses, for the LORD your God will bless you in all your yield and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be only joyful.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
It is impossible to sow a field unless it has first been plowed. Similarly, the blockage in our heart — timtum ha-lev — prevents spiritual feelings from penetrating it. The hard peel surrounding the heart must first be pierced. Only then can spiritual insights be sown, and only then can fruit be expected to grow, in the form of changed attitudes.

How can the hard soil of the heart be plowed? With strong emotional upheaval. This can come from sudden disaster or from great joy. When a person is in a state of great excitement, for whatever reason, his heart opens.

Both disasters and joys can open the heart. Joyous holidays can provide an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Does this provide additional insight to why God presents before us both a blessing and curse?

Is it enough to have a transformative experience? Why does Rabbi Dessler, quoting the Vilna Gaon, also say that we must be ready to sow?