This week’s Torah portion begins in the sweeping, literary style that we have become accustomed to since the beginning of Deuteronomy. “Re-eh” means “see,” as Moses tells the people Israel, “God has set before you this day a blessing and a curse…the good way and the evil way.” This brief description of our human capacity for free will we shall encounter once again in the latter chapters of Devarim.
Then in chapter 12 begins an utterly different style of language and interest. Modern Bible scholars refer to chapters 12 through 26 as the Deuteronomic Code, written to support a religious reformation which began in 701 BCE and was reinstituted in 621 BCE under the reign of King Josiah. Part of this “code” is the focus on the centralization of Jewish worship in one place, namely Jerusalem.
Numerous midrashim flow from the beautiful words of these chapters. For example, Torah teaches us “derech eretz,” that is literally, the way of the land. But what it really means is good breeding, or good manners! What is the proof for this? In chapter 12, verse 20, it says that we can eat as much meat as we desire (which in a sense is a rather disgusting attitude, as being a vegetarian is a better way of living). But the Torah point of view is: you can’t eat these “goodies” until you have prospered, meaning you have entered the Holy Land and are following God’s mitzvot. Compare this to our contemporary ethic, that we should grab whatever we can, reach for the stars, and whatever we can take, we should go for it! So the Torah teaches us manners, i.e. have patience and do that which is morally correct, before we satiate ourselves!