In this week’s parasha, Re’eh, God tells us “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of the Lord, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of the Lord, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”
God then gives instructions about worshipping at the place of the Temple once it is revealed to the Israelites, and gives the people permission to worship God at other places until that time. God also reminds the people not to follow other gods and, when we enter the Land of Israel, to destroy the “holy” trees, pillars, high places and graven images used by the idol worshipers.. The parasha also includes laws regarding tzedakah, in which we are instructed how to assist the poor.
God warns the people not to follow false prophets, people who appear to have the divine gift of prophecy but use their powers to spread worship of other gods. The Sages teach that sometimes people have a gift of foretelling the future or even doing things that seem to be miracles, but such powers are not a sign that this person is a prophet, and a Jew must not be convinced by such things to stray from following God.
It’s unusual these days to hear anyone in the Jewish community claim to have the power to work miracles and telling us to believe he or she is a prophet, but you still hear about it in the news in the world at large. And we don’t find many neighborhood shrines where one could worship a tree or a pile of rocks.
Still, many people seem to worship in strange ways. They become so wrapped up with things – usually material things – that they no longer follow Torah. It’s good to put your heart into your studies, but if you become obsessed with grades and cheat, you’ve left the path of Torah. People work hard at their jobs so they can earn money, but when they lavish their earnings on themselves and ignore the distress of their neighbors, they have forgotten the lesson of this week’s portion to help provide for those in need.
The parasha’s opening word – Re’eh – tells us “See”. Look at what you spend your time doing and “see” if it brings you the satisfaction of knowing you have done the right thing, acted fairly or done good for someone else.