Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – R’eih
I love it when Torah says controversial things. Of course, it can say lots of things, and we can make it controversial or not. That said, I read this text to spark controversy. From Deuteronomy 15:7-10:
“If, however, there is a needy person among you, in any of your settlements in the land that Adonai your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. Beware lest you harbor the base thought, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching,” so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. He will cry out to God against you, and you will incur guilt. Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return, Adonai your God will bless you in all your efforts and all your undertakings.”
Effectively, we have to understand that since the 7th year mandates the forgiveness of all debts, we must still “loan” people money, knowing that it is effectively a gift. The purpose of this commandment is to remind us that we must help because we are supposed to, not because we get something back from it. Torah teaches us not to stop loaning money even while we should not expect to be paid back.
We have to provide for people, knowing that the relationship may be one-sided, knowing that we may not like what they do or who they are, and knowing that we may not sense it’s appreciation. Ultimately, we have to remember that loaning and gifting may be the same exchange – and that is ok. Helping another is sacred work.
Why is this text controversial? Quite simply, it reminds us that caring for each other has nothing to do with liking or agreeing with each other. This text may be the most needed scriptural prophecy of all time. It undoes the tyranny of racism, sexism – all the isms. It removes emotional judgementalism from the equation of service to the community. It is scary because it means we have to get passed all the stereotypes imposed on us over generations and alleviate our decision making of their baggage and myopia. We have to remember that we help other human beings – not partisan politicians or supporters, not friends or enemies, and not people of this religion, gender, ethnicity, or another. This command demands that we return to human.
Wars happen because people feel insecure and unheard. When we can respect each other, the oppressor’s needs to control get addressed; the oppressed cries in need get heard; the impetus for war wanes.
To quote the late John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Every house of worship in the western world stands bound by and to everything I said above. We show up and read the words, sing the hymns, and relish in the sounds of the language.
We need to pay attention to the teachings of the Torah. We must put the needs of the stranger over our own, or we have sinned before God. We must take care of “ALL” who are in need, even at our own expense. The Rabbis teach that we must give enough so that even the poor can gain dignity through giving. These teachings are the foundation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and all the Eastern traditions, as well). We cannot pray the prayers and shun our neighbor and expect that our time in worship meant anything. This mandate is not politics; it is Godliness. It may be inconvenient. It may be controversial. It may go against our capitalist grain and mindset. If, however, Torah does not speak today, then why are we here? Let’s take a step back and take better care of each other. Wonderful things happen when we love first.