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

“Everyone according to what he can give,
according to the blessing that Adonai, your God, gives you.” (Deuteronomy 16:17)

Entering “Sigmund Freud” into your web browser yields over 13 million sites. But Freud’s theory of personality can be summarized in just five words: Life is a mixed bag. That insight is not original to Freud, though. It is articulated by a rabbinic riff on a verse in Parashat R’eih.

R’eih presents a by-now familiar trope: follow the Torah, get blessings. Don’t follow the Torah, get curses (Deut. 11:26-28). It’s clear enough. Moses reviews and introduces many laws about sacrifices, prophecy, keeping kosher, sabbatical year and remission of debts, and the pilgrimage holidays. And then Moses says to look out for the poor: “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). The message is clear: giving to others will result in God giving to you.

The Tzene Rene (~1590s; Yiddish-language anthology of rabbinic interpretations of the weekly Torah portion, written for women) likens the word biglal, because, and galgal, wheel, to suggest an alternative interpretation: today you are on top and can give, but life is a wheel that turns; tomorrow you may be on the bottom and need to receive. This message is just as clear: it could be you, so give. This is why the Torah teaches, “If your brother becomes poor…you shall uphold him.” (Lev. 25:35) A prompt response to someone’s distress might help them –which means it might help you–avoid total collapse. Empathy helps transform, “…there shall be no beggars among you.” (Deut. 15:4) into an aspirational statement.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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