Saturday, August 23, 2014

Torah thoughts on Re’eh

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh (Deut. 11:26 - 16:17) includes a restatement of the laws of the shmittah year, the seventh year in which the land rests and in which debts are remitted.  These laws are designed to help people avoid long-term entrenched poverty.  Loans to the poor are encouraged and two of the years of the seven year cycle are ma’aser ani, a tithe for the poor.  Deuteronomy 15:4 promises, “There shall be no needy among you since the Lord your God will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion”.  The commentator Rashi finds a contradiction between this verse and verse 11 of the same chapter, “for there will never cease to be needy ones in your land”.  Well?  Is God telling us there will always be poor among us, or not?

To answer, Rashi points us to verse 5, the follow-up to the promise of a land with no poverty, “…if only you heed the Lord your God and take care to keep all this instruction that I enjoin upon you this day”.  We easily forget that God’s promises are one half of a covenant, and the other half is for us to uphold.  If we can make things fairer for those who are struggling, give generously to those who can’t put enough food on their tables, make it easier for them to obtain loans at fair terms, then someday there truly will be no needy among us.  The Torah is more than just words on a scroll, it is an instruction manual.

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