Parshat Re'eh at Touro Synagogue Newport
By Aaron Ginsburg
Edited by Beth Levine
Hebrew text and translation by Sefaria.org
I had the pleasure of attending services on August 12 at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. The beauty of the synagogue and Newport takes one's breath away. There were quite a few visitors and a sprinkling of familiar faces. I wore a name tag.
When I had an aliyah, Rabbi Stephen Belsky, interim rabbi, suggested that I add my Hebrew name to make the aliyah process a little easier. My Hebrew name is Israel ben Moshe. I am named after my grandfather Israel Ginsburg. Aaron is there because my mother, Dorothy Pokross Ginsburg aka Dot, did not want me to be called Izzy and Aaron is the first name my parents found in a baby book of names.
When I was a retail pharmacist a customer in Randolph, Massachusetts asked, “Are you Jewish?” I tried not to laugh, saying, “Well, what do you think? By the way, my middle name is Israel.”
Rabbi Belsky chose the famous passage from the beginning Parashat Re’eh for his Torah message,
רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of your God that I enjoin upon you this day;”
“So here it gets a little weird, " said Rabbi Belsky. “It doesn't say
הברכה אם תשמעו The blessing – if you obey... It says הברכה אשר תשמעו The blessing – that you will obey.”
Rabbi Belsky explained that some Rabbis, including Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, said that in this case “if" and “that” mean the same thing, and the word choice was a matter of style. Others say that “if” implies some uncertainty.
“But, Rabbi Belsky continued, there's another way to understand that anomalous phrase...
“Ibn Ezra says, ‘For when you obey, behold, you are blessed.’ And Rabbi Shimon Raphael Hirsch explains. ‘The observance of God's commandments is itself part of the blessing.’
“Choosing the blessing means coming together as a congregation, united by faith and by learning, and by caring about each other.
“The blessing that Moshe offered wasn't a prize to win, but a life to live, together, in community, in choosing a life of Torah. Community in Jewish life is a wonderful thing. It's an essential thing. And it is a blessing.
“But it takes work, it takes intention, and it takes choice –choosing to join together
even when we don't agree on everything, choosing to work together to support all of our needs, and choosing to love and forgive each other; choosing to be a blessing for each other, and for the whole world.”
This is a lesson we can apply to all aspects of our lives.
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!