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Shabbat and Eighth Day of Pesach (Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17)

“For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you:
open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Because the eighth day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, a special holiday reading interrupts the regular cycle of parashot (Torah portions). Surprisingly, it does not feature Pesach. Not surprisingly, it focuses on freedom-related issues: tithing, the Sabbatical year and the remission of loans, the release of slaves from their servitude, and the cycle of the three pilgrimage holidays.

The language in the reading sounds a persistent refrain: “Aser ta-aser et t’vuat’cha…You shall set aside a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing…” (Deut. 14:22); “Ki pato-ach tiftach et yad’cha lo…Rather, you must open your hand to him…” (Deut. 15:8); ”Naton titein lo…Give to him readily…” (Deut. 15:10); Ha-aneki ta-anik lo mitzon’cha umigarn’cha umiyik’vecha…Furnish him out of your flock, threshing floor, and vat…” (Deut. 15:14). Give, give, give, and give.

In each command to give, the verb is doubled: aser ta-aser, pato-ach tiftach, naton titein, ha-aneik ta-anik. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) interprets this to mean offering a helping hand is not a one-time event. Patience is required; you may need to give help once, twice, or more. Ibn Ezra (1089- ~1164; a great medieval Spanish scholar) expands on this idea: you must give generously enough to raise the recipient’s self-esteem and reputation, not merely to enable survival.

It is not accidental this is Pesach’s closing message. The blessing of freedom obligates us to an ongoing effort to help others rise up out of bondage and oppression. This is as binding today as in Biblical times.

Gut Shabbos, Gut Yontif
Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach

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