A close friend of mine was at Charlottesville. Baruch HaShem, she returned in one piece. On Wednesday we stayed up late together, drinking mint tea, having real talk. In the basement of my apartment building, the clothes she wore to the counter demonstration turned over in a washing machine. They had been contaminated by bear mace and she needed them for the next day.
“Solidarity isn’t a concept for me anymore,” she told me. “It’s a real thing, as real as chair, it’s as concrete as anything else. It’s people having my back.”
My fear, her story, and the image of empowered people toppling a confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina weighed on my mind as read this week’s parasha, Re’eh.
G-d gives the Israelites a blessing and a curse. This is the generation for whom G-d’s miracles were real, not stories. They had witnessed pharaoh’s army swallowed up by the Red Sea and had lived off of manna in the wilderness. Now they were preparing to entering Canaan, to fight, to end their exile and wandering. They are warned by G-d, that if they go and listen to another god, and worship idols, they will be destroyed. And if they follow G-d’s commandments, they will have prosperity.
The land which awaits them is a promise of milk and honey, but is in reality a ‘plain land’ of rain water, work, and valleys.
G-d gives the Israelites commandments because the time of miracles is coming to an end, neither they nor their children will witness them again. So, tefillin are to be wrapped around the hands that have held manna, and be placed between the eyes of the people who have seen miracles. And a mezzuzah shall be put on gates and a doorpost, before they have entered the promised land.
Is G-d giving commandments to the Israelites so that they conquer Canaan, and fearlessly defeat their enemies? If so, I would have a difficult time differentiating the Israelites from the torch bearing fascists that surrounded forty students from the University of Virginia last weekend….
Then I remembered my friends words about solidarity, and thought about the abstract details of the story in a concrete way. Canaan is not a land to conquer, it is a promise fulfilled. Prosperity is not the yield of a harvest and the defeat of one’s enemies, it is the triumph over idolatry.
We are not going into a holy land to worship a different idol. We are keeping a promise. As the first line of Re’eh reads, “love, therefore, your G-d, and always keep G-d’s charge, laws, rules and commandments.”
And so we should struggle to do so, just like those Israelites who had seenmiracles. Even they had to understand and follow the commandments. Let us go into the promised land and destroy the idolaters. Crack all the idols at their base and smash their faces.
We should be compelled to righteous action, to understand how to keep a promise, to love what we cannot see, so that we can fight idolatry, that which exists without explanation, which in this way is like hatred. For if we love G-d and follow the commandments, we will be given the strength to defeat these enemies, and to be free.
“Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours.”
I read Re’eh and am inspired to imagine masses of people destroying every symbol of hate in the world, toppling the idolaters of the modern era, the war makers and profiteers. I see us defeating our enemies who make an idol out of their whiteness, I see us keeping our promise to defend our comrades, and I feel love.
Re’eh is about having the strength to follow commandments given to us by a G-d whose miracles we have never seen. Even though we have never seen a better world, we have to build it, we have to struggle. Being a Jew means keeping this promise.