RE’EH “To See and Be Seen”-the Hollywood Jew
Writing this to you from the beautiful woods of Ithaca, New York, wearing my new Cornell Yarmulke and Hebrew – Language Cornell Sweatshirt (compliments of Rabbi Ari Weiss of the Cornell Hillel House) I am able to share a new perspective (that’s why us Rabbis crave those days off-new insights!).
Sitting with my daughter Dena as I joined her and fellow students at the Cornell Law School “orientation” barbecue, Dena shared this experience: On the third day of orientation, after most students had a chance to interact somewhat, students were asked to offer examples of “micro-aggression” (described as a passive aggressive racist behavior/ comments) they may have noticed or experienced in life. Dena contributed that sometimes, when someone seems to be intending a favorable compliment about her appearance, she hears ”Wow Dena, you don’t LOOK Jewish!”.
Putting the “micro-aggression” issue aside for now, here is the part of the story I want to focus on: After Dena made that comments, she was suddenly surrounded by a “Jewish community” that newly “adopted” her. She spent three days as a general incoming law student interacting with the same people who were also just “other newbies”, and in that one instant that she advertised her Judaism, she found herself a new member of a community-within- a -community. Not an old established Yiddish Shtetl-but a brand new 21st century center for Yiddishkayt in the midst of America’s intellectual heart. All it takes is simply seeing yourself, or allowing others to see you in one way, to create a new world for yourself, and others, that may have never been available.
This interchange provided me a new insight into resolving an age-old question raised by the ancient sages on our Parsha. The Parsha begins with the words “See, I am giving to YOU (a life of) blessing or curse. The blessing…if you follow my words… the curse…if you don’t… “. But the Hebrew words are interestingly crafted , the word “See”, is written in the singular-“R’Eh”. The word “You” (“I am giving YOU) is written in the plural-“LACHEM”. Maybe the Torah is teaching us about how to create community. How we can construct our own special world within our world even though we may find ourselves in environments not only different or alien to our heritage, but even hostile and unfriendly. How to we accomplish that? We first simply focus on the singular. How do we see ourselves? What do we see when we look in the mirror? How do we present ourselves to others? Do we hide who we are in our attempt to blend in and be integrated with the rest of the world? Or do we proudly wear our heritage on our shoulders?
If we SEE ourselves as the children of Avraham and Sarah that we are and we let others see us that way…you never know who else might crawl out of the woodwork. You never know what kind of personal world-and haven you might be creating -or yourself and for so many others-so that the ONE becomes a new world-LACHEM.
This Shabbos, let us think about what opportunities we have in or lives to enhance our own Jewish vision of ourselves-and bring out the dormant Neshamas in the rest of us! Shabbat Shalom