Seeking Sadness – Parshat Re’eh 5777

Do you know anyone who’s only happy when they’re miserable? It’s a bit of a paradox; happy and miserable are opposites. “Happy” in this sense really means emotionally fulfilled. I went to a therapist when I was a teenager, and apparently she saw this tendency in me. It’s true – I used to look for the bad so I would have something to be complain about. In fact, this is something I struggled with until my early 20s when I was finally able to realize that seeking out the negative meant I was missing out on the positive. I was searching for something to be upset about instead of celebrating all the good that my life had to offer.

This week we read Parshat Re’eh. In this Torah portion we learn about the blessings and curses that come with observance (or lack thereof) of the mitzvot we’re given. We’re cautioned a final time about following the laws against idolatry, laws for keeping kosher, and the importance of treating each other as equals. Then the parshah provides some details about our three pilgrimage festivals. In general this section of text offers final guidance and laws designed to help the Israelites to be a longstanding and functioning society.

A part of this section has some interesting things to say about authority and how we solve problems. As God is trying to teach the Israelite leaders how to lead, God makes it known that when it comes to crime and punishment, it is not our responsibility to seek out illegal activity, but to simply investigate that which has come to light. Specifically in chapter 13, verse 13 we receive a prohibition from seeking out danger or criminal activity. The authorities are required to investigate only if the crime is reported to them by others. In other words, witch-hunts and entrapment are off limits. Instead, we are to give serious thought to all sides of an issue, use logic, and give benefit of the doubt.

If you’ve been reading or watching the news lately, as I’m sure you have, you’ve probably noticed that logic isn’t always part of the equation. Especially with the help of social media, we find it easier than ever to make accusations not based in fact. Instead, we jump to conclusions based on headlines meant to incite rather than inform. As with anything in life, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for if you look hard enough, and if you subscribe to the theory of confirmation bias, you don’t even have to look that hard.

This week as we read Parshat Re’eh, we’re reminded that looking at the glass as half full or half empty doesn’t just apply to individual circumstances. The mindset we choose affects everything from career trajectory to success in relationships. And yes, there will be bad in our lives and in the world. We’re not supposed to ignore the bad, we’re simply supposed to seek the good first.

-Rabbi Eve Posen

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