Re’eh – Be a Blessing

When flying at a low altitude over a mountainous region it is easy to identify the tree line. At a certain altitude the trees stop suddenly. They don’t thin out, they simply stop. The ideal climate for these pine trees is present at a specific altitude and not above that altitude.

While tree lines can be very visible from above, many other species of plants and fauna have distinct climates in which they thrive. Botanists and biologists have conducted numerous studies in recent years to research the effects rising temperatures have had on plant growth in the wild. While different plant species react differently, in the main it was discovered that plants have adjusted their growth areas. Some plants have migrated to lower grounds, while most plants have been steadily climbing to higher altitudes. The average growth of many plants has shifted 10 to 50 feet higher, as the plants seek cooler air.

While the higher altitude brings cooler air, it often comes at the expense of being more distant from water sources. Some plants have moved lower, closer to water sources, despite the warmer temperature. The higher mercury generates need of more water, which is more plentiful at lower altitudes. On the flip side, cooler temperatures of higher altitudes lower the plant’s need of water, so it boils down to a choice of pros and cons, and each species needs to reach the right balance which is best for its survival.

We have long known that animals learn to adapt to a changing environment. When their habitats cease to provide the shelter and food necessary for their survival, animals migrate to other habitats that can better support their needs. We have even seen evidence of certain species evolving over time to survive better in a new environment. It is surprising, however, to discover that plants also “learn” to adapt and find new places which better suit their needs for growth and vitality.

Different from plants and animals are humans. When our environments no longer support our needs we have the option of looking for different environments. However, we often choose to remain in place and change the environment itself. No animal, and certainly no plant, has ever done this (with intent). When our wells dry up we pipe in water from elsewhere. If our lands are swamps, infested with disease-carrying insects and unsuitable for agriculture – we drain the swamps and transform the valleys into lush farmland. We level hills to make flat spaces and we build mounds to make attractive landscapes. We plant forests in barren land and we clear woods for purposes of farming and settlement. We build roads for transport and man-made channels to redirect rivers. We don’t simply seek a better environment, we transform our environment better suit our needs.

Moses presents the people with a choice. “See, I place before you this day a blessing and a curse.” (Deuteronomy 11:26) The classic understanding of this verse, supported by the verses that follow, is that people have the option of following God’s commands and the laws presented in the Torah – which will yield blessings and success, or choose to disregard the laws of the Torah and act in accordance with their own desires and vices – which will generate curses and failure.

It is possible, however, to read the verse slightly differently. We are presented with two ways of life. We can be a blessing or we can be otherwise. Not only does adherence to the laws and spirit of the Torah generate blessings for us, it turns us into a blessing for others. When Abraham was urged by the Lord to “go forth” he was promised, among other things, that he will “be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:2) When we have challenges, when we are presented with difficulties we can move on and leave the problem behind for others to deal with, or we can find a solution by changing the environment for the better. We can be a plant or animal, creeping or wandering away to find a more suitable habitat, or we can create a suitable habitat within our environment. No other creation was endowed with the ability to do this, and by changing the environment we become the blessing, we choose to be a blessing.

©2020 by Wellington Jewish Community Centre.