Parshat Re'eh - 8-2-2013

Post date: Dec 14, 2013 9:58:35 AM

Re'eh: Look! Open your eyes. See for yourself. Evaluate.

God puts before us, blessing & curse, life & death.

"Choose life" - God implores us to make good decisions. Nothing is forced, nothing is forgone. How do we know what the right decision is? Well, that goes right back to "Re'eh". When we collectively make the right decisions, we will see improvements in justice, in health, in our welfare. When our choices lead to reductions in our freedoms, diminished health, lower standards of living, then we need to look again, and possibly choose differently.

What was right 4,000 years ago may not necessarily be right today. In the perasha, God says that we may in fact experience a "prophet or a dreamer" who predicts signs and wonders, and they may in fact come about, and still, we should not trust that prophet or dreamer. We need always to re-evaluate and see whether the results of our choices make the world better or not. Who are the false prophets of today? Think of all the things that used to seem obviously true, yet with more discovery, turns out to be not true?

At one time, oncologists discovered that cancerous tumors are voracious consumers of blood nutrients. They reasonably inferred that if you restricted blood flow to the tumors, you would be able to reduce the size of tumors, effectively slowing the growth of the tumor and the metastasizing of the cancer. When a suitable process was found to implement that theory, it turned out that a starving tumor became far more aggressive and spread more quickly.

In the 1950's, pregnant women in Europe were given the now infamous Thalidomide to reduce the symptoms of "morning sickness". The Food and Drug Administration did not approve the drug in the US until further studies could prove it was safe. When it was found to cause babies to be born with stunted limbs, the FDA banned its use entirely. In the 1990's, researchers investigated the Thalidomide far more deeply, and discovered the reason why it caused birth defects. They discovered that the drug inhibits the formation of blood vessels. It turns out that tumors grow by rapidly creating blood vessels to channel all the blood supply they consume. So, now, Thalidomide is back in use as a treatment for aggressive tumors.

What we thought was obvious turned out to be completely wrong. What we thought was disastrous turned out to save the lives of people whose prognosis was bleak.

I love Re'eh precisely because it implores each of us to be responsible for the consequences of our actions, good or bad. It's not always easy. Heaven knows, we all make mistakes. If we are lucky, we get to see the results, then choose differently, then reevaluate all over again. It is a never ending process, and we are lucky to be a part of it.