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Dvar August 30 2019 and 31 2019: R’eih

August 30 and 31, 2019


Friday: Obligation to care for others

In this week’s parsha, R’eih, Moses continues his second speech to the Israelites preparing them for entering the promised land. He speaks about values and behaviors, which lead to blessings and which lead to curses. He gives a presentation of choice: would you like to receive blessings or curses, you choose through your actions. Our Torah portion teaches us that blessings do not just come if asked for, blessings are bestowed if certain values and behaviors are practiced. The Israelites will receive their blessings should they live according to the commandments G-d subscribes them to as they enter the land. This weekend I want to focus on how understanding how to live out our values brings blessings into our lives.

Last week, I began a series on Saturday morning, which will continue tomorrow morning, about the lessons we derive from our Torah portions leading to the High Holidays and how these lessons are instrumental in engaging in introspection and reflection we are meant to do during the days of awe. Tomorrow I will talk about how parshat Re’ieh teaches us to identify and live out one’s values. 

But tonight I want to talk specifically about a value that I believe is very important to Judaism: care for one another.

Our parsha, this week, talks about shmitta: the practice that every 7 years, the 7th year be one of remission of debts, all debts are nullified. 

Our parsha states: 

כִּֽי־יִהְיֶה֩ בְךָ֨ אֶבְי֜וֹן מֵאַחַ֤ד אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ בְּאַחַ֣ד שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ בְּאַ֨רְצְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֣ן לָ֑ךְ לֹ֧א תְאַמֵּ֣ץ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ֗ וְלֹ֤א תִקְפֹּץ֙ אֶת־יָ֣דְךָ֔ מֵאָחִ֖יךָ הָאֶבְיֽוֹן׃

If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your G-d is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.

כִּֽי־פָתֹ֧חַ תִּפְתַּ֛ח אֶת־יָדְךָ֖ ל֑וֹ וְהַעֲבֵט֙ תַּעֲבִיטֶ֔נּוּ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ׃

Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.

הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֡ פֶּן־יִהְיֶ֣ה דָבָר֩ עִם־לְבָבְךָ֨ בְלִיַּ֜עַל לֵאמֹ֗ר קָֽרְבָ֣ה שְׁנַֽת־הַשֶּׁבַע֮ שְׁנַ֣ת הַשְּׁמִטָּה֒ וְרָעָ֣ה עֵֽינְךָ֗ בְּאָחִ֙יךָ֙ הָֽאֶבְי֔וֹן וְלֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן ל֑וֹ וְקָרָ֤א עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה וְהָיָ֥ה בְךָ֖ חֵֽטְא׃

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 the LORD against you, and you will incur guilt.

נָת֤וֹן תִּתֵּן֙ ל֔וֹ וְלֹא־יֵרַ֥ע לְבָבְךָ֖ בְּתִתְּךָ֣ ל֑וֹ כִּ֞י בִּגְלַ֣ל ׀ הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה יְבָרֶכְךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָֽל־מַעֲשֶׂ֔ךָ וּבְכֹ֖ל מִשְׁלַ֥ח יָדֶֽךָ׃

Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the LORD your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.

כִּ֛י לֹא־יֶחְדַּ֥ל אֶבְי֖וֹן מִקֶּ֣רֶב הָאָ֑רֶץ עַל־כֵּ֞ן אָנֹכִ֤י מְצַוְּךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר פָּ֠תֹחַ תִּפְתַּ֨ח אֶת־יָדְךָ֜ לְאָחִ֧יךָ לַעֲנִיֶּ֛ךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ֖ בְּאַרְצֶֽךָ׃ (ס)

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.

Our oral tradition, the Mishnah and Talmud, elaborate on this notion and introduces and teaches about the value of tzedakah: “charity”. Maimonides, known as the RAMBAM, a commentator and medieval Sephardic Jewish commentator created a ladder of charity called Mainmonides Eight Degrees of Charity: Maimonides Eight Degrees of Charity (read Sacks page 6-7)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a British Rabbi who stepped down from being the chief rabbi of the UK in 2013, takes the value of tzedakah even further then our oral tradition. According to Rabbi Sacks tzedakah also translates to “distributive justice, equity.” He elaborates on the value of tzedakah, writing: (read excerpts)

What does this teach us about tzedakah? What resonates with you? What challenges do you have? How do we cultivate this in our community?



Introspection and living out our values:

Last week I introduced a Saturday dvar series that will run up to Rosh Hashanah. In these dvars I will bring (from the parshiot) tangible ways for us to prepare ourselves for the High Holidays. As stated last week: we are steadily approaching the High Holidays. Our time of reflection, repentance, repair, and renewal. Many people wonder: how do I do this work? The concepts are great but how, tachlis, do I do it? I was inspired to start a series of dvars, leading up to Rosh Hashanah where we will explore different ways to engage and cultivate the concepts we are meant to engage in during the month of Elul and during the High Holidays.

Last week we spoke about blessings and how acknowledging blessings is a simple act of bringing positive thinking and gratitude into our lives.

This week in Parshat Re’ih, Rabbi Alan Lew summarizes an important scene in this week’s parsha: (read excerpt)

So taking this concept of the active choice between blessings and curses, our parshat hashavua gives us road markers or let’s call them value markers throughout it’s entirety. Therefore, as I sat down to write this dvar and expunge it’s tangible exercise for us, I realized inspired by these value markers in the parsha we should use this time of Elul to explore our own values as we enter the new year.

Here are a few value markers from our parsha:

    • 12:8 You shall not act at all as we now act here

לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּן כְּ֠כֹל אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֲנַ֧חְנוּ עֹשִׂ֛ים פֹּ֖ה הַיּ֑וֹם אִ֖ישׁ כָּל־הַיָּשָׁ֥ר בְּעֵינָֽיו׃

You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases,

כִּ֥י לֹא־בָּאתֶ֖ם עַד־עָ֑תָּה אֶל־הַמְּנוּחָה֙ וְאֶל־הַֽנַּחֲלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃

because you have not yet come to the allotted haven that the LORD your God is giving you. (Value change; value different circumstances allow us to act in different ways, and this is a blessing)

    • Chapter 12: 20-25: value of kosher laws

רַ֣ק חֲזַ֗ק לְבִלְתִּי֙ אֲכֹ֣ל הַדָּ֔ם כִּ֥י הַדָּ֖ם ה֣וּא הַנָּ֑פֶשׁ וְלֹא־תֹאכַ֥ל הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ עִם־הַבָּשָֽׂר׃

But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for the blood is the life, and you must not consume the life with the flesh.

לֹ֖א תֹּאכְלֶ֑נּוּ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ תִּשְׁפְּכֶ֖נּוּ כַּמָּֽיִם׃

You must not partake of it; you must pour it out on the ground like water:

לֹ֖א תֹּאכְלֶ֑נּוּ לְמַ֨עַן יִיטַ֤ב לְךָ֙ וּלְבָנֶ֣יךָ אַחֲרֶ֔יךָ כִּֽי־תַעֲשֶׂ֥ה הַיָּשָׁ֖ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃

you must not partake of it, in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the LORD.

(Value: eating, being grateful, ethical eating, not eating more than we need, etc) 

The parsha goes on to highlight the values of living authentically, remembering your history, honoring your heritage, and the ethics of money. All these values and more are important to reflect on leading up to the new year.

Tangible ways to do this:

  • Pick a value each day/ week and journal on it
    • Document how it shows up in your daily life and how to react to it
  • Have a conversation with your loved ones about values; maybe there are changes you want to make together or things you want to continue to do
  • Make a list of all the causes you want to support and figure out how to support them: through time, money, etc. Mark your calendar for when you will focus on this work.

And finally, our parsha this week teaches us the benefit of living according to your values. Gives us the answer as to why we should dedicate the next month to doing this work:

Chapter 12: 28

שְׁמֹ֣ר וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֗ אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָנֹכִ֖י מְצַוֶּ֑ךָּ לְמַעַן֩ יִיטַ֨ב לְךָ֜ וּלְבָנֶ֤יךָ אַחֲרֶ֙יךָ֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם כִּ֤י תַעֲשֶׂה֙ הַטּ֣וֹב וְהַיָּשָׁ֔ר בְּעֵינֵ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃ (ס)

Be careful to heed all these commandments (of your authenticity) that I enjoin upon you; thus it will go well with you and with your descendants after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.