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Parshat Re'ih


"''See this day I set before you blessing and curse:

blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.

When the Lord your G-d brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal....

For you are about to cross the Jordan to enter and possess the land that the Lord your G-d is assigning to you. When you have occupied it and are settled in it, take care to observe all the laws and rules that I have set before you this day.'"

With these powerful, haunting words opening this week's parsha, Moses announces to the gathered Israelites that they control the outcome of of their collective future in The Promised Land. They can choose blessings, not curses, if they simply follow the course that Moses, through G-d, has laid out for them. Simply put, Moses, who knows he is about to die in the wilderness, begs the people: "Don't screw it up".

This public exhortation in a specifically named location--the holy mountains are recreated here out of secular Bridgehampton sand--would have occurred near modern-day Nablus. Several years ago, Shabbat mom and her family were blessed to visit this normally deserted area with the archaeologist Adam Zertal of blessed memory. In the 1980s, Zertal excavated what he always believed are (and could very well be) the remnants of the first altar that the Israelites (led then by Joshua) built on nearby Mt. Erbal as soon as they crossed the Jordan.

(Shabbat Mom can't prove it, either, but when she and her crew approached what clearly resembled a massive ancient altar (where Zertal discovered and documented finds including Egyptian scarabs and thousands of small bones, all from kosher animals), she felt an almost electric charge in the air and instinctively covered her curly head with a Pucci scarf. Go figure.

In R'eih Moses explains that once the Israelites are settled in Israel, G-d will reveal a central location (possibly that one) for all sacrifices:

"..You must bring everything that I command you to the site where the Lord your G-d will choose to establish His name.'" And he reiterates again and again the prohibition against idol worship; any "prophet or dream diviner" in the new land who tries to influence others to join paganism "shall be put to death; for he urged disloyalty to the Lord your G-d."

In his continuing Biblical "Best Of" series in the chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses here repeats kosher food laws and lays out in detail the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Succoth, and Shavuout, when the Jews would be required to travel with their sacrificial offerings to the "place that He will choose".

Ultimately, that was the Temple in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom!