Shavuot, Parashat Re’eh: Listen for an Emotion

By: Michael Carr

In today’s parasha Moses asks G-d  to give the Israelites divinity, vision, and insight into the future. Moses was given a ‘gift’ that made it easier for the Israelites to understand the message of Torah. In turn this provided more time to live Torah rather than learning how to read.

G-d intended for all Israelites to hear or listen to the words of Torah and live the commandments.  The first word of the parasha is “re’eh,” which means “look” and derives from the Hebrew verb root for “see” (spelled: “resh,” “aleph,” “hey”). This root is used in conjugated form 175 times in the Torah and more than 400 times in the Tanach, which points its importance in understanding how we are to live a ‘Torah life’.

Although the word “re’eh” is translated here as “see”, we can interpret re’eh as referring to more than the physical act of seeing. It’s also about listening to the Torah’s commandments, understanding them, and following them correctly so that we can live a full Jewish life according to the Torah’s laws.

Understanding Torah and its many messages can be tough – simply ask one of our Torah readers. Sometimes assuring people are listening to the meaning of your d’var torah can be equally challenging.  In my brief experience of studying Gemara, mixed messages and meanings often result in confusion, leading to ‘lively’ discussions.

So it was during the period when Torah was given to the Jews. At the time, not many people could actually read the Torah let alone understand or correctly interpret its laws—hence the establishment of advisory bodies of wise men, like the Sanhedrin.

When public readings of the Torah began, it was actually read aloud to all by the few who knew how to read. Supposedly, the chanting of the Torah began with Ezra the Scribe back in 547 CE. To get the attention of Jews so they would listen to the Torah portions, a melody was added to the words.

When speaking with others or writing & reading a d’var torah, it helps to create an emotional message to get an emotional response. Will it make the audience or individuals you communicate with laugh or cry?  Will they feel anger, confusion or simply accept the message?

This reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

God and Moses had a desire for the Israelite people to see, hear, and understand what was being said in giving the Torah laws. But what they really, really, wanted was to assure that the people were tuned into the mitzvot of Torah and were living life according to its mitzvot.

The Israelites heard the laws and recognized that their future would be better based on following commandments for living an abundant life of Torah. They connected emotionally with what they heard.

Perhaps this is why the phrases we use today, such as mazal tov, yishar koach and baruch t’hiyeh have evolved: to acknowledge both what we heard and how it made us feel.

So, no need to take notes. Build on what you have heard by making it your own. Offer an emotional response or acknowledgement for the messages received.

English poet and author, Henry Shukman captured this idea in this quote: “When you listen and look deeply, you find beauty. Beauty that can last beyond a moment. It is through attention to the world, to each other that we come truly alive.”  

Good Shabbos!