Parshat Reeh Summary

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Parshat Reeh is the 4th parsha in Sefer Devarim (also known as Deuteronomy).

This parsha is verses Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17, or a total of 126 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 12:10, 17 verses

Moses tells the Jewish people that they must choose between a blessing and a curse.

The blessing will come if they are careful to perform all of God’s commandments.

Here are the things they must do after they enter the Land:

  • destroy the places where other gods were worshiped
  • break down their altars
  • break their pillars
  • burn the trees they worshiped
  • destroy their images
  • wipe out the names of their gods

The Jewish people must not allow the above actions to be done to God’s name or His places of worship.

Aliyah 2: Deuteronomy 12:11 – 12:28, 18 verses

Moses tells the people that God will choose a special place in the Land of Israel. We know the city that He chose is Jerusalem.

Once that special place is designated, that is the only place where certain animal offerings may be brought.

It will be permitted to slaughter kosher animals and eat the meat in other places. However, we must be careful to never eat the blood.

A Jewish farmer separates portions of his crops and gives them to the priests (terumah) and the Levites (first tithe called maaser rishon in Hebrew).

He also separates another tithe (called maaser sheni in Hebrew). This second tithe can only be eaten in Jerusalem. There more details about the second tithe in Aliyah 5.

Here is a brief summary of tithes that are to be separated from each crop.

  1. Terumah. Given to a priest. Based on Torah law, even a small amount may be given. The sages decreed a person should give 2% of the crop.
  2. First Tithe – Maaser Rishon. Given to a Levite. 10% of what remains after terumah.
  3. Terumat Maaser. Given by the Levite to a priest. 10% of the maaser rishon he received.
  4. Second Tithe – Maaser Sheni. Separated in years 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the 7-year shemittah cycle. Taken to Jerusalem and eaten there. 10% of the remaining crop.
  5. Maaser Ani. Separated in years 3 and 6 of the 7-year shemittah cycle. Given to the poor. 10% of the remaining crop.

Aliyah 3: Deuteronomy 12:29 – 13:19, 22 verses

The Jewish people must not investigate how the previous nations worshiped their false gods. They committed abominations even to the extent of burning their children in fire.

We must not add to nor subtract from God’s commandments.

A false prophet must be put to death. Even if a “prophet” has produced signs or wonders, they by themselves are not proof that the person is a true prophet.

A person who entices you to worship another god must be put to death. Even a close relative must be put to death for enticing you to worship a false god.

It’s possible that an entire city will go astray and worship a false god. Such a report must be investigated.

If the report is true, then the entire city must be destroyed by fire. We are first required to kill all of the people and animals. Then burn the bodies and all other objects found in the city with fire. The city should never be rebuilt.

Aliyah 4: Deuteronomy 14:1 – 14:21, 21 verses

The Jewish people are a holy people and should not mourn by cutting themselves or making a bald spot on the head.

We are not to eat any thing that is considered by God to be an “abomination.”

We may only eat animals that have a split hoof and chew the cud. The Torah lists 4 animals that have only one of these signs:

  • camel
  • hare
  • hyrax
  • pig

We may only eat animals that live in water if they have both fins and scales.

We may eat clean / kosher birds. The Torah does not explain how to identify kosher birds. However, it gives us a list of unclean birds that may not be eaten.

We may not eat an animal that died without on its own without being properly slaughtered.

We may not cook a kid in its mother’s milk (the basis for the prohibition of not eating meat and milk together).

Aliyah 5: Deuteronomy 14:22 – 14:29, 8 verses

The second tithe is to eaten “before God,” meaning in the city that He chooses. Also, the first born of cows, sheep, and goats are to be brought to Jerusalem and eaten there.

A person will live so far away from Jerusalem that it’s difficult to take their tithes there. Then the tithes may be exchanged for money.

That money now has the status of maaser sheni (second tithe). It is brought to Jerusalem and used to purchase food and beverages to consume within the city.

It may happen that a Jewish farmer has not been able to distribute all of his tithes. In such a case, he is responsible to distribute them at the end of each 3-year cycle.

Aliyah 6: Deuteronomy 15:1 – 15:18, 18 verses

The Torah commands that Jewish farmers in the Land of Israel not sow their fields during the seventh year of every 7-year cycle. The seventh year is known as shemittah.

Verses 15:1-6 deal with a different shemittah, the remission of loans.

The situation is this: a Jew has loaned money to another Jew. Any amount of the loan that is still unpaid at the end of the 7th year must be canceled.

A loan made to a non-Jew is not subject to remission and may still be collected.

It is the responsibility of Jews with the ability to do so to loan to the poor among them. Loans should be made even if there is a chance that the loan will be canceled by the 7th year.

A Jewish slave serves his master for at most 6 years. In the 7th year he is released. His master should give him gifts so that he does not leave empty handed.

The male Jewish slave may choose to remain a slave after the six years.

The laws are similar for female Jewish slaves. However, she may not choose to remain a slave after the end of 6 years. She must be released.

Parsaht Reeh - Jerusalem and matzah
A map of Israel showing Jerusalem with a matzah in the background. Passover, when matzah is required to be eaten, is one of the 3 pilgrimage festivals.

Aliyah 7: Deuteronomy 15:19 – 16:17, 22 verses

The firstborn of cows, sheep, and goats were mentioned earlier at the beginning of Aliyah 5.

Moses reminds the people that the firstborn male of these species is sanctified to God. No work may be done with it nor may it be shorn for its wool.

The firstborn male is to be taken to Jerusalem where it will be slaughtered and eaten. However, if it has a disqualifying blemish, you may slaughter it and eat it in your home city.

The remaining verses of this parsha are a summary of the 3 pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

In verse 16:1 we are told that Passover is to be observed and celebrated in the spring. Passover starts on the 15th day of the month of Nissan.

It is necessary to keep Nissan in the spring. This is done by periodically adding a “leap month” to the Jewish calendar.

All Jewish males are expected to present themselves before God for the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. This is why these are known as the pilgrimage festivals.

Though Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are also very important, they do not have the status of being pilgrimage festivals.

Haftarah Summary

Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5

This haftarah does not relate directly to the parsha. Rather it is one of the seven haftarahs of consolation that are read after Tisha B’Av. All of these haftarahs are taken from Isaiah.

The prophet reminds the Jewish people that they have a bright future. There will come a time of peace, tranquility, and plenty. Those who opposed the Jewish people will be vanquished and Messiah, a descendant of David, will reign.

Further Reading

I wrote more about Passover and spring here.

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