This week’s parsha is called “Re’eh”, or “See”. It begins Moses’ final speech to the Israelites in which he, among other things, lays down guidelines for tzedakah. Specifically, Moses talks about always giving of yourself freely, even when it is unlikely you would be repaid in kind.
If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother
So G-d is telling us that if someone is in need, that we are compelled to assist them. If you recall Maimonides’ levels of tzedakah, simply acting out of obligation would be the 8th and lowest level, giving unwillingly.
The parsha continues:
Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.
You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.
We are now being told that we should not simply give because we are told to, but because it is a blessing unto itself. We’ve now moved up Maimonides’ ladder to level 6, giving to the poor after being asked.
Moses then warns against withholding assistance because of the approaching Jubilee year, when all debts are forgiven:
Beware, lest there be in your heart an unfaithful thought, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release has approached,” and you will begrudge your needy brother and not give him, and he will cry out to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin to you.
So even if you know your loan, or your assistance may never be repaid, it is more important to help your neighbor out than to not help at all. As judaism teaches: a single life is worth that of the whole world. What is the worth of your wealth to that of an entire world?
Maimonides’ 2rd highest level of tzedakah is to give to those in need, without the receiver or giver knowing who the other is.
As we approach the High Holidays, we should be reminded by this week’s Torah portion to “Re’eh”, to see, to look around us and see those who are unable to provide for themselves and their families. There are many charities and organizations that are able to help these families but they need our assistance. Please make an effort as we move into the new year to reach out to our community and help those who have not been blessed as goodly as you have.
Hazak hazak venit-hazek: Be strong, be strong, and may we strengthen each other.
D’var Torah for Temple Beth Israel – 8/26/2011