Parashat Re’eh 5782

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A D’var Torah for Parashat Re’eh
By Rabbi Enid Lader (’10)

Our Torah portion this week is Re’eh – Deut. 11:26-16:17In chapter 15, Moses continues to speak to the people about what to expect as they come into the new land. “There shall be no needy among you – since the Eternal your God will bless you in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance – if only you will heed the Eternal your God and keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day.” (15:4-5) Here’s the thing… If you play by the rules, there will be plenty for all. That makes sense. We know that there certainly are ways we can treat each other and care for (and about) each other that make for a just and compassionate society.

But… Moses goes on to warn the people that, “If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kin, in any of your settlements in the land that The Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart, and do not close your hand to your needy kin… For, there will never cease to be needy ones in your land… open your hand to the poor and needy in your land.” (Deut. 15:7,11)

This is a key verse in teaching the importance of giving tzedakah. The word tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word tzedek, “justice.” Performing deeds of justice is perhaps the most important obligation Judaism imposes on the Jew. In next week’s Torah portion, we will read: “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof – Justice, justice, you will pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Hundreds of years later, the Talmud taught: “Tzedakah is equal to all the other commandments combined” (Bava Batra 9a).

In our Torah verse, 15:7, notice that “your needy kin” is mentioned twice. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (1786-1869, Komarow, Russian Poland) taught (in Imrei Shefer) that there are two kinds of poor – one kind are those closer to us in style and status, who’ve come on hard times, and to whom it’s easy to give. But, as he rightly points out, we must also reach out, “surely open our hand” (15:8), to those with whom we don’t feel a sense of closeness.

One the one hand, we are told that there will be plenty. On the other hand, not only are we told that there just might be a needy person… we then find out that there will never cease to be poor and needy among us!

The fact is that these verses go hand in hand. The fact is that there are enough resources to go around. The fact is that it is up to us to make sure they are distributed fairly; that no one should have to go hungry.

Throughout our history, Jewish communities have assessed tzedakah from each member of the community, to assist “our needy kinsman…” – those who are close, and those with whom we do not feel a sense of closeness. Today, the Campaign for Jewish Needs is the annual fundraising campaign of the Jewish Federations of North America that helps to ensure the vitality and vibrancy of our local communities – and Jewish communities around the world – in the year ahead. As the Campaign says: “Whether we are feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, caring for the elderly, educating our youth, ensuring a Jewish future, or supporting Israel, our Jewish community stands together. And, together, we can make the world a better place.”

Indeed, it is up to us… to open our hands and our hearts.


Rabbi Enid C. Lader (AJR ’10), is the rabbi at Beth Israel – The West Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the past-president of ARC (The Association of Rabbis and Cantors – the only joint rabbinical and cantorial professional organization in America), and is the current president of the Greater Cleveland Board of Rabbi.