Parshat Re’eh: See and Be Seen

This week’s parsha (Re’eh) opens and closes with a keyword: To see. It begins with “Re’eh!” “See!” the choice you have before you to receive God’s blessings or curses. It ends with the mitzvah of “olat reiyah,” when the men would bring an offering and “see”/“be seen” by God in the mikdash. What is the relationship between seeing and being seen by God?

The olat reiyah was brought as part of the aliyah la-regel, the pilgrimage made on the three major festivals to the mikdash. While only men were obligated to bring an offering, women could participate in the pilgrimage and according to some sources, were even required in aliyah la-regel. The Talmud teaches that the prophet Jonah’s wife took on this mitzvah. This shows there was flexibility and potential inclusion for the women to take part in the mitzvot of aliyah la-regel. 

The language of the biblical source for the olat reiyah offering is ambiguous: “all your males shall be seen the face of God” (Devarim 16:16). Are they seeing or being seen? How can one see “pnei,” the face of God? The midrash Sifrei (re)interprets as follows: “If you do this, I will “free” (“poneh” which sounds like “pnei”) Myself of all My affairs and occupy Myself with you alone.” When we give of our time and possessions to see others and serve Hashem, God sees and blesses us. 

There are many people in our communities and society who have been feeling less seen over the last few years. In particular, educators, parents and children. The parsha is a reminder to take a moment and consider how we can see the exhaustion and frustration of both the teachers and the parents/children. As we begin the month of Elul and hopefully the new school year, we pray for a world in which everyone feels seen and is blessed with feeling valued and seen by Hashem. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson