The fist word of the parsha itself – re’aih – see – is the key to the entire understanding of the book of Devarim. Moshe speaks to the Jewish people not so much as to faith and belief as he does as to experience and history. Moshe asks that Israel recall all of the experiences of the desert and of Egypt. By remembering they will be able to see their responsibilities and their destiny much more clearly. Moshe speaks against wishful thinking, placing hope over reality, of the tragedy of ignoring lessons of history and those of bitter experience. So Moshe speaks not of esoteric matters but rather exhorts Israel to see clearly the realities and its relationship to God and His covenant. Moshe really states that “seeing is believing,” for by seeing the world, past and present, clearly and honestly, one can thereby come to greater heights of belief and inspiration. The prophet scolded Israel by stating: “See your path in the valley; see your past immoralities.” If we would only see the past and not merely acknowledge its existence in a superficial manner, how much greater our commitment to achievement and future greatness would be!
The entire book of Devarim concentrates on this weakness of sight of the Jewish people. There are those who are very near-sighted and never see past their nose. There are those who are far-sighted but because of that they are not realistic about the present. Moshe demands of Israel to be clear-sighted, balanced, farsighted and realistic all at the same time. There are aids to help us achieve this tricky goal. Therefore this week’s parsha also contains the holiday cycle of the Jewish year. The holiday cycle reminds us of Egypt and the Exodus, of Sinai, and our commitment, of the sojourn in the desert and our arrival in the Holy Land. It paints for us a complete picture of the Jewish past and the Jewish future. It is a corrective lens through which we see clearly how to behave and achieve in our current world. The gift of sight is one of the wonders of the human body. The gift of spiritual and historic sight, the type of sight that Moshe speaks of in this week’s parsha is also of inestimable value. We can thank God for this gift of both spiritual and physical sight by renewing our loyalty to Torah and Israel and setting our goals according to the vision of Moshe as expressed here in the book of Devarim.
Rabbi Berel Wein