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This Week's The Torah Portion:

Torah reading "Re'eh"

Summary

The Israelites are encamped at the banks of the Jordan river, about to enter the Promised Land. Moses, their beloved leader, is in the midst of delivering a series of final talks to his beloved people before he passes away. This week's reading opens with the words: "Behold! Before you lie a blessing and a curse: a blessing if you fulfill the life-giving teachings I have taught you..." He concludes his talk with the words: "...I urge you: choose the path of blessing in the land ahead; choose life!"

Judaism, since its origin, has embraced a belief in human freedom and personal responsibility. But the Israelites lived in a pagan world, a world steeped in the idea of "fate" - the belief that much of human behavior is predetermined and inevitable. Moses, in his farewell message, now emphasizes: human destiny lies in human hands.

Just how ancient is the Jewish concept of freedom of will? Well, way back in Genesis, we learned that the first human beings, Adam & Eve, had two sons who didn't quite get along, to put it mildly! The elder brother, Cain, was filled with jealous rage toward his younger brother Abel. But as his jealousy grew and began to boil over, G-d approached him with the words: "Cain! ... Sin lurks at your door... But you can master it!"

The Torah's message to the world, in this regard, is a message of hope: In imploring Cain to "master" his destructive side, and in urging the people of Israel to choose life, G-d is declaring: "You are capable of controlling the destructive urge toward violence, if you truly will it!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus

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