Parshat Re’eh offers one of the most interesting mitzvot in the Torah, that of Ir HaNidahat, the city that ‘has gone astray’, i.e. begun to worship idols. The details are basically “if you hear of a city that has gone astray, blah blah, kill them all”, so, y’know, no biggie.
Obviously I’m joking. The mitzvah is amazing, actually, but that’s a topic for another time. The context of the rule is among a group of rules relating to possible idol worship that should be investigated. In his comment on this particular mitzvah among the group of mitzvot, however, Rashi notes that it is questionable when one should investigate even on this matter, where the investigation is made explicit, let alone, whether an investigation is needed in the other cases. The assertion seems to be that we don’t go around investigating people’s behavior unless and until we have a very good reason to.
It is fortunate that we always read this part of the Torah near Rosh Hodesh Elul and this year on Rosh Hodesh itself. Hopefully the reminder will still be clear: in building a relationship with God, in opposing immorality and evil, and in relating to each other, it is self-investigation that is most necessary. To be sure, we’ll hear about things and we’ll need to make sure the right people check them out. But we must start, this season and hopefully always, with an eye inward. When we investigate the other person, as mentioned in the parsha, when we spend our time looking at the behaviors of the other city, the other shul, the other country, we deny ourselves and the world our greatest opportunity, that of introspection. Unless and until we have done this, we cannot further our relationships with one another or with God and it is these relationships for which Tradition tells us this month is named: an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li. When we view our responsibility to others more highly than our suspicion of them, when we view what we can offer to others more highly than what they owe us, we can fulfill the verse “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”