Parasha Re’eh (Det. 11-16)

Wikipedia: “The parashah is the longest weekly Torah portion in the Book of Deuteronomy.” Listen here.

* Shouldn’t the WN leaders themselves have been asked these two questions instead of leaders from the Cathedral?

* Deut: 10:19: “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Ethan Linden:

In our parashah this week we find an odd statement masquerading as banal—a revolutionary idea that at first glance seems familiar, but is something else entirely. In Deuteronomy 10:19 the Torah commands: “Ve-ahavtem et hager ki gerim hayitem be-eretz mitzrayim” (“Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”).

We find very similar statements elsewhere in the Torah, of course, but with a crucial difference. Consider Exodus 22:20, for example: “Veger lo toneh velo tilhatzenu” (“Do not wrong a stranger, do not oppress him”). The end of this verse—which provides the reason for the law, or perhaps the reason why the people should take care to follow it—is the same as that in Deuteronomy: for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt. But in Exodus, and in most of the other biblical verses that address this issue, the command is: Do not harm, do not oppress. In Deuteronomy 10:19, we are told: Love. One is a negative injunction—do not act in such a way toward a stranger—while in this week’s parashah we have an affirmative requirement: Seek a ger out and show favor to him or her.

It is perhaps the oddity of this that leads Rashi to his interesting comment on this verse. He quotes from the Talmud (BT Bava Metzia 59b): “Do not taunt your fellow with the blemish you yourself have.” This is an unexpected take on the verse—and one that affects the level of difficulty of this mitzvah. After all, not oppressing someone is easier, and takes far less effort, than acting affirmatively to befriend them, to try to understand and love them. While the Exodus version of the command can be followed simply by staying out of the way of a ger, this Deuteronomic version in our parashah seems to require the exact opposite: to get in their way such that we can see the ger, and the ger can see us. Rashi, perhaps sensing this difference, reads the verse as being less about public policy and more about public comity. We all have blemishes, Rashi seems to be saying, and perhaps we should remember that when we are interacting with our neighbors.

* Moshe: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” Every choice we make contains a blessing and a curse.

* Det. 11:32: “You shall be careful to perform all the decrees and the ordinances that I present before you today.”

Every people has an operating procedure for maximum success. When they drift from it, they decline.

* Regarding the events in Charlottesville, we should remember that not all white nationalists are murderers. As 4Chan Pol put it: “White nationalism is a movement of peace, anyone who does violence in the name of white nationalism is no true white nationalist. To conflate violence with white nationalism is bigotry of the highest order, I’m offended at your bigotry.”

* I believe in right and wrong. I believe there is objective morality (which requires belief in a transcendent God who is the source of morality aka the Torah). Right now, however, regarding the events in Charlotte, I prefer clarity and objectivity. There are different forms of life here struggling for survival. When conflicts of interest become sufficiently intense, there is inevitably violence. That’s how intense conflicts of interest are solved.

There are iron laws of life that apply to everybody, such as gravity and social identity theory. Many conflicts, personal and group, are win-lose. One party wins and another party loses. Sometimes, you have to kill or be killed. The more you identify with your group, the more likely you are to have negative feelings about out-groups. The more pressure a group or an individual feels, the less likely he is to be tolerant. The more intelligent the person, the more able he is to empathy and to find win-win solutions.

* The parasha offers some insights into Saturday’s events. Deut. 12:2-3: “Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.”

One side is trying to destroy all the symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy. The other side is trying to maintain their civilization and not be replaced.

It is similar to the situation 3200 years ago laid out in the Torah in the fight for the Holy Land. The natives wanted to keep their civilization. The Jews want to destroy it and take over with their own civilization. If we want to discuss this conflict in terms of right and wrong, we have to share the same faith in the transcendent God who’s the source of objective morality. If you don’t share the same faith, it is hard to have a fruitful discussion of right and wrong. But all people can discuss group conflicts of interest. No faith required.

Non-monotheist approaches to life don’t have the same need as monotheists to wipe out other religions and to install allegiance to the one universal morality.

* Det: 12: “8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you.”

Even with objective morality and God-given morality, there are different moralities for different places and situations. Ethics can be both divine, universal and situational. Judaism is situational morality. The situation determines the moral.

* In Hebrew, the word for “slave” and for “servant” is the same — “eved.”

* The Protestant approach to the Bible is that every man can open it up and on his own divine what it is saying. The Catholic and Jewish approach is to approach the text through the eyes of tradition (you follow the guidance of your wisest ancestors).

* Det. 12:18: “You shall rejoice before HaShem, your God, in every undertaking.” The Torah places tremendous importance on happiness though this happiness is secondary to observance. The U.S. Declaration of Independence, on the other hand, declares: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Do other religions place equal value on happiness? Islam does not radiate happiness. Hasidic Judaism places more importance on happiness than any other Jewish movement.


What makes something “chukat goyim?”

* One of the most famous examples I have heard is that one should not even tie one’s shoes like the non-Jews do in times of persecution. That seems rather excessive. What if the Jews started doing some custom, and it gets co-opted by the non-Jews. Can we still do it? If not, that could wipe out a lot of Passover seder traditions, since a large fraction of Christian (in particular Catholic) ritual is based on the last supper, which of course was a seder.

* Rabbi Feinstein says we follow the opinion of the Ran, that chukat goyim is only something that the Jews haven’t done until now, AND it has something to do with paganism or sexual immodesty. (Halloween is generally understood as an example of the former; for the latter, R’ Moshe suggests that theoretically, if the Jewish women in a society clearly had the practice not to wear red clothing, then choosing to do so in imitation of the non-Jews — red is flashier and more attractive — would be a problem.)

Another possibility of chukat goyim is where the action makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, so the only reason to do it would be to try to blend in with non-Jews. A doctor’s white coat (or the specialized clothing of craft guilds in Renaissance Italy) is okay because it’s not pagan nor immodest, and you’re wearing it for professional reasons. R’ Moshe also writes that all the funny things about American clothing — well, American men’s clothing in the 1950s — are considered decorations, and not a problem.

Fascinatingly, R’ Moshe concludes that “American clothing” today is in fact “American Jewish clothing”, no different than “Polish Jewish clothing” and thus not “goyish” at all. (Provided it’s appropriate!)

The shoelace case is one where clearly the Jews had one shoelace style, and the non-Jews another. One choosing to change shoelace style would be making a statement “I want to look like a non-Jew.” In this case, the non-Jewish style was also flashier, so the switch is both a statement, and a drift away from modesty. It’s also important to realize that in times of persecution, we need to hold strong.

Wikipedia: Chukot Akum or Chukat Ha’Akum is a prohibition in Judaism of imitating Gentile manners in their dressings and practices. The prohibition comes from the old testament commandment “You shall not follow gentile customs”(Leviticus 20:23). Modern life has created many dilemmas on what constitutes a violation of this prohibition and there is ongoing debate about this topic. For example can a Jew attend thanksgiving or Mother’s day observance without violating this prohibition.

* If white nationalists are not allowed to rally, then what are their alternatives?

Washington Post: Richard Spencer, the white nationalist and one of the leaders of the rally, said police failed to protect groups with which he is affiliated. “We came here as a demonstration of our movement,” Spencer said. “And we were effectively thrown to the wolves.” The police, he said, “did not protect us.”

* Marshawn Lynch sits during national anthem…

* David Brooks writes in the NYT: “Damore was tapping into the long and contentious debate about genes and behavior. On one side are those who believe that humans come out as blank slates and are formed by social structures. On the other are the evolutionary psychologists who argue that genes interact with environment and play a large role in shaping who we are. In general the evolutionary psychologists have been winning this debate.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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