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Parashat R’eih (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:12)

“Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you:
neither add to it nor take away from it.” (Deut. 13:1)

Parashat R’eih reminds us poverty is as old as time and likely to be with us until the end of time: “The poor will not disappear from the land.” (Deut. 15:11) The obligation to address poverty is equally ancient and in that same verse R’eih continues, “…You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor, and to your destitute in your land.” (Deut. 15:12)

It is easy to connect this mitzvah, or commandment, to R’eih’s opening declaration, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. “ (Deut. 11:26) and assume the blessing is a reward for providing for the poor. R’eih reinforces that causal relationship when it states, “Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for biglal hadavar hazeh, because of this thing, your God, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.” (Deut. 15:10). It seems clear cut, but it ain’t necessarily so.

Swapping the clauses in the verse to read, “God will bless you biglal hadavar hazeh, for this thing,” yields a different truth: God blesses us with abundance so we will provide for the poor. Now personal wealth is not the result of personal virtue; it is a resource to promote righteousness. So when R’eih says, “There shall be no needy among you…” (Deut. 15:4) it doesn’t expect poverty to disappear; rather it provides the rationale to support a societal attitude of caring responsibility.

R’eih begins with a command voiced in the singular: R’eih, see. This highlights the unity of the Jewish people. Giving to the poor is investing in ourselves.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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