This week’s portion, “Re’eh” (DT: 11ff) is packed with issues and challenges. SOme of the issues covered are the on-going theme of choice (11), laws regarding food, (12, 14), Festivals (16), idolatry and warnings about following false prophets (12, 13).
It is a portion filled with interesting texts and interpretations. There is much that can be looked at in light of our own life situations. An issue that calls to us, and is very timely, comes to us in chapter 15. Here is a passage that speaks to the necessity to not allow anyone within the community to remain in need. This speaks to our generation’s response to the call to “give back” to society. Increasingly, many Boomers, especially retirees, faced with years, perhaps decades of post “full-time” work, seek paths to give back to society in some meaningful way. We have interviewed some of these people on some of our “Seekers of Meaning” podcasts. A common theme is the understanding that the blessing of time allows us to seek means to help society be better.
There is a classic text from this week’s portion that underscores this call. In Deuteronomy 15:7,8 we read “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsmen. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” The text understood tha the need for help will always exist as it states: “For there will always be (never cease) needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy of your people in your land”. (15:11). The Etz Hayim commentary cites a Talmudic passage which states that “One who ignores the needy is like the idolater (BT Ketubot 68a). Also, it is forbidden to insult the poor or accuse them of being undeserving” (page 1078) Ancient texts that speak to modern life!
Deuteronomy calls us to “give back”, so engage in society and to open our hearts to those in need. All are created in the divine image, as we are taught, so, as Talmud says, to ignore the poor is to practice idolatry and if there is one consistent theme in the entire Torah, it is to never to be the idolater. What a powerful and timely message from an ancient text. The choice, remains ours.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.