Throughout our history, our sages have tried to find ways to explain the order of the content of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, particularly beginning with Parshat Re’eh, each Parshah contains many mitzvot, more than in most parashot of the Torah, and these mitzvot are not arranged in any clear structure or pattern. Some of these mitzvot are merely a repetition of matters already recorded previously in the Torah, while others are new mitzvot that have not been mentioned previously. There are no guidelines explaining the sequence of the mitzvot in every Parshah, or the more subtle order of the various verses and c­ommandments.

It is interesting to note that this very lack of clear continuity between the topics, the fact that matters that would seem to be unrelated are juxtaposed, has itself become a source not only of aggadic interpretations but also of a number of halachic rulings. Our sages note that even scholars who generally do not draw conclusions from the juxtaposition of different subjects admit that in the book of Deuteronomy, such juxtaposition exists for a reason. Indeed, the order (or lack thereof) in the book teaches us that halachic inferences may be drawn from one subject to another within the Torah. This kind of interpretation is found in quite a few subjects in Deuteronomy, despite our lack of an established method of arranging the verses and the mitzvot in one overall system.

The site that G‑d will choose

Parashat Re’eh, too, contains many mitzvot and topics, some of which are found only in the book of Deuteronomy, and some of which reiterate, more or less, previously mentioned material. Here, too, it is difficult to find a logical sequence for the mitzvot that appear in the Parshah.

Nevertheless, we can point to a common aspect that is mentioned, and sometimes even stressed, in many halachic in the Parshah: A considerable number of these mitzvot are connected to holy space – the Land of Israel in general and the site of the Temple and the holy city of Jerusalem in particular. While the name “Jerusalem” is not mentioned at all in the Torah, nor is its location noted – the Torah calls it “the site that G‑d your Lord will choose from among all your tribes, to establish His name there”1 – nevertheless, this Parshah especially emphasizes its significance to the People of Israel. Whereas other parashot do not deal with the holiness of the Land of Israel but with general mitzvot, many of which are not connected with the Land of Israel, Parshat Re’eh is unique in this regard.

The emphasis on the chosen place extends through the parshah by way of various major mitzvot. The beginning of the parshah deals with the laws of the korbanot, in which the connection to “the site that G‑d will choose”2 is emphasized, a choice that invalidates all the other places in the Land – all the more so outside the Land – for bringing korbanot. Then we encounter the mitzvah of maaser, which is not the same as the maaser mentioned earlier in the Torah (Num. 18). There, the reference is to the first tithe, the tithe given to the Levites, whereas here the reference is to the mitzvah of the second tithe, a major part of which involves bringing the maaser to Jerusalem and consuming it there. The mitzvah of shemitah is another commandment connected strictly with the Land of Israel; it cannot be fulfilled anywhere else. Another law, which would appear to pertain to a different sphere but which is likewise connected to the Land of Israel, is the mitzvah of the city of refuge, whose laws do not apply outside the Land. The connection to Jerusalem is found in the section on the festivals at the Parshah’s conclusion as well. Even though the section is essentially a reiteration of what has been stated previously, the mitzvot of making a pilgrimage and observing the three pilgrimage festivals specifically in Jerusalem are specially emphasized here.

Thus, the great majority of the subjects treated in the Parshah’s – both the mitzvot that are described in detail as well as the matters that are only outlined here and are elaborated upon later (like the blessing and the curse given upon Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal) are connected to Jerusalem or to other places within the Land of Israel.

The introduction to the many laws that appear in this Parshah and in Parashat Shofetim states, “These are the statutes and the ordinances that you shall carefully observe in the land that G‑d, the Lord of your fathers, is giving you to possess.”3 Thus, even laws that are not expressly connected to the Land of Israel are communicated in the atmosphere of preparation for life in the Holy Land, which is endowed with special sanctity and which serves as the setting for these laws.

Hence, we can easily understand that the Land has a special sensitivity and intolerance of defects. This sensitivity pertains not only to major defects such as sins of sexual immorality, regarding which the Torah stated previously that the Land will vomit out its inhabitants,4 but to other laws as well, many of which are not obviously connected to the Land. The laws of forbidden foods, for example – which were already detailed in Leviticus with an emphasis on the sanctity of G‑d, the sanctity of Israel, and the connection between them: “Sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy”5 – are repeated here in the context of the preparations for entering the Land, as though to say that it is inappropriate for the Land’s inhabitants to eat things that are not compatible with the uniqueness and special nature of the Land of Israel.

Heavenly people

Another major subject in the Parshah that is connected in a different way to life in the Land is the special warnings against idolatry. The People of Israel must reach the Land of Israel, conquer it, and rule over it by exercising total control, without leaving even a trace of its former cultures. Deuteronomy is full of warnings stressing apprehension over the ancient inhabitants of the Land, mainly because of their culture and religion.

It appears that more than concern over the direct influence of the nations on the Jewish people, there is concern over the character or feeling of the place, which create a sense of closeness to the G‑ds of the nations, both near and far. Indeed, we know that these commandments were never completely fulfilled. Not only at the beginning of the Land’s conquest but even hundreds of years thereafter, enclaves of other peoples still remained, and apparently not without reason. It seems that the Jews who came to settle in the Land had a misguided sense that connection to the land must be accompanied by some kind of inner attachment to the rules of the G‑ds of the land. The descriptions in the book of Judges show that the people followed religious/superstitious patterns of behavior and symbols connected specifically with the land. This happened because the People of Israel came from a completely different way of life. The patriarchs were shepherds, and their descendants still defined themselves as “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.”6 Even while they were in Egypt, performing forced labor for Pharaoh and his servants, the Jewish people never had a direct connection to the earth and to agriculture.

In this respect, even in the first generation that conquered the Land, Jewish society was detached from the earth and had found the sources of its livelihood in various other ways. Hence, the connection to the earth involves not only a professional change but also a change in consciousness. When the People of Israel entered the Land, they had to learn to adapt to a world of seasons, agriculture, and an almost sensual connection to the land and its labor. When they found in the Land a preexisting practical and cultural foundation of connection to the earth, it is very difficult to distinguish between the professional, technical, agricultural side and the idolatrous element that was connected with it.

These considerations do not inherently create a desire for outright idolatry, but instead lead to the development of a mixed life: The people worshiped G‑d, since this was their way of life and their ancestral tradition, but they also frequently gave in to the temptation to worship Baal, which represented a connection to the earth and to the land. The people saw no contradiction whatsoever in this bifurcated spiritual loyalty. In Jeremiah 44, for example, Jeremiah criticizes women who still worship idols without realizing that Judaism absolutely rejects religious syncretism. Hence, precisely upon the people’s arrival in the Land of Israel, it was necessary to strongly emphasize that under no circumstances may the popular cultic customs of the land be accepted.

For this reason, the Parshah contains the laws of the idolatrous prophet, the laws of one who entices others to go astray, and the laws of the apostate city. In the last case, the inhabitants of the apostate city change the laws of the Torah, adding various embellishments in order to “complete the picture” of a belief system that they perceive to be lacking. All three of these cases are versions of the enticer, who seeks “to lead you away from G‑d your Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”7

The repeated emphasis on maintaining distance from idolatry derives from the need to recall Judaism’s uniqueness, otherness, and apartness. Israel must remember that ultimately they are “a people that dwells apart,”8 that the customs and traditions of the nations cannot apply to them.

It is not without reason that the expression am haaretz,9 whose meaning in Tanach is rather neutral, over time became a derogatory term. For in spite of the Jewish people’s attachment to the Land of Israel, they still are not “people of the land” but “people of heaven.”