R’ Eli Munk wrote that the Torah uses the word re’eh (see) rather than the word sh’ma (hear) when it comes to free will. He argued that hearing implies the impression of external factors whereas seeing implies internal perception, seeing into one’s soul. Understanding a choice involves knowing one’s own conscience.
Moshe spoke of the choice presented to each individual, between a blessing and a curse. The blessing would be if the individual followed the commandments, and the curse, if the individual strayed from the path and followed the gods of others.
In looking at this in detail, Nechama Leibowitz quoted from Malbim who commented on the actual phrase “a blessing that you obey the commandments” meaning that the actual obedience to the commandments constitutes the blessing. “Do not imagine that there is any reward outside the good deed itself”. Leibowitz summarised this as “virtue is its own reward”.
Nechama Leibowitz wrote that the world was not originally evil, and full of misfortune. It was bountiful and granted to mankind on condition that he would be obedient to the wishes of the Creator. The curse only comes afterwards in the event of man’s subsequent disobedience. It is man himself who is responsible for the evils of the world, inevitably arising when he cannot see within and observe his conscience.
The choice between good and evil was mentioned three times in the Torah. In Bechukotai, it was stated as the direct word of G-d. In Re’eh, the choice was presented by Moshe, and in Ki Tavo, it was presented as an oath to which the people replied “Amen”.
In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, R’ Reuven Hammer wrote about the challenge the Jewish people have to create a society based on the tradition which began with the ideals of the Torah, and continued with the vision of the prophets and Rabbis. He wrote that the vision underlying the reality of the state of Israel comes from the entire tradition of Jewish belief and thought, making Herzl’s dream possible. The key principle was that the children of Israel should “keep the way of the Lord and do what is just and right”. R’ Hammer concluded that the modern state of Israel is the Jews’ third opportunity to make the vision a reality.