August 15, 2022 |

A Need-To-Know Basis

Parshat Re'eh starts out with a brief description of a strange ceremony we'll encounter later in Devarim: The blessings and the curses atop Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval, respectively. (The latter's English homophone, "Evil", is probably unrelated).

But having whetted our apetite with a preview, the Torah quickly moves on to other topics, describing some details of the local sacrificial customs, and how the Jewish People were to behave differently. What is striking about this piece is the repeated phrase "when you get to the place that I (God) will choose". Not once does it mention Jerusalem by name. Always the wordy "the place I will choose", with sometimes even longer versions, like "the place I will choose to have my Name dwell there." Why the circumlocution?

It is an interesting counterpoint to how the parsh begins, at the two mountains. Those, in contrast, are named. In this case, the explicit names are quite literally, a blessing and a curse. As known geographic entities, these two mountains represent a specific destination -- one that could be previewed by spies, or prepared by defenders. In fact, one opinion says that it is exactly that reason (preventing preparedness by the local tribes) that caused God to avoid mentioning Jerusalem by name. (If someone knows the source of that, please feel free to add a comment.)

Jerusalem at this point in Jewish history remains a mystery. Name: Unknown. Location: Unknown. Arrival Date: TBD. Perhaps Moshe himself has not yet been told, and he and the elders and the rest of the people will be informed when they Need to Know.

In today's era of transparency, we feel like information that exists is information that should be shared. Politicians and the media fight constantly over how much people should know, if the information in question is a threat to national security, or if withholding the information is a threat to democracy and stability.

The case of the Jews in the desert takes us back to a simpler time, when we could trust our leadership to keep information from us, but know that the answers existed and would be in our best interests. As children, we frequently have this experience, putting faith in our parents to lead us to the right destination, and hopefully that faith is rewarded with positive and fun experiences. We lose this as we mature, and in taking more responsibility for our destinies, we feel the need to label them, give them names, know where we're going perhaps before we are ready or before the answers even exist.

Sometimes it may be healthy to just go "to the place that God will choose", and find out what it's called once you get there.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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