R’eh contnues the series of sermons that form the basis of Deuteronomy. This portion is most famous for its opening themes of blessings and curses, based on our following God’s laws. In classic style, we are reminded that we will be blessed if we follow and cursed if we stray. Idolotry again is a key theme. Likewise the portion discusses false prophecy (Biblical “fake news”?), social equity and festivals. The portion is rich in issues to discuss and no doubt you will tackle many in Torah study this Shabbat. Yet, lets look at a small verse toward the end of the portion. In [15:11] we read that “there will never cease to be needy in your land, which is why I commanded you (or, thus I command you) to open your hand to the poor and needy kinsmen among you”.
In many ways this is a fascinating little verse. As a comment in the Plaut hints at, this is a “realistic appraisal” of what is true today. The realities of life indicate that there will always be people who need help. Our responsibity is to open our hands. In the Hebrew the verb to open (p’t’ch) is doubled, which emphasizes its importance. Now, I suggest, this verse takes on greater meaning. So many are isolated. So many are “needy”, not necessarily for economic strength, but for spiritual strength. And all the while, so many avenues of help are cut off. That is why the need is great to keep in contact with people. There is economic hardship so food banks and food pantrys are crying out for donations. There is the need for personal contact and thus so many congregations have redoubled their Caring Community efforts to call and reach out to people who are alone and isolated. That is why almost every congregation has reported that they are seeing more people Zoom in to Shabbat services, Torah study and adult education. There is a new type of “needy”.
This small verse reflects the sacred call for all of us to reach out to others. To open our hands to make sure no one is alone, or needy, either spiritually or personally. Opening our hands to theirs also, as the tradition understood, allows for the flow of the mitzvah to go both ways. The portion reminds us that there will always be a need to care for and respond to those in need. The Prophets remind us of this and this week, the Torah, in a small but powerful way, underscores this command. Open our hands and we open our hearts. There is need for all of us to reach out, because, each of us, in our own way, is in need.
Rabbi Richard F Address