This is a dvar I gave for Parsha Re’eh on August 16 2014
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read in Deuteronomy 15: “There shall be no needy among you…then in a few verses later it reads– If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kingsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy brother. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. ….For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to the poor and the needy in your land.”
These statements contradict each other—how can the Torah say There shall be no needy among you and then say there will never cease to be needy ones in your land.
Even more importantly, we have God’s instructions on how we should relate to the needy and the poor in our society and what our obligations towards them are. We need to be reminded that it is only if we embrace our responsibility to keep the commandment to support the poor that there will cease to be needy people amongst us –And God will not take care of it for us.
One of my teachers Rabbi Jill Jacobs suggests that the overarching Jewish attitude toward the poor is best summoned up by a single word of the biblical text: אחיך “your brother.” With this word, the Torah insists on the dignity of the poor, and it commands us to resist any temptation to view the poor as somehow different from ourselves.
By telling us that the poor person is our sibling, our brother, the Torah reminds us that, like us, a poor person is made in the image of God and should be treated as such. It also prevents us from separating ourselves from him or her, from seeing ourselves as somehow inherently different from the poor.
This Parsha reminds us of our duty towards the poor. The Poor are our siblings for whom we must care. We have an infinite responsibility for the Other.
Each of us alone might not be able to eradicate poverty but by embracing our responsibility as individuals, as part of a community, of society, we can bring our world closer to the vision of there shall be no needy. This parsha teaches us that together we will make a difference in this world if we take care of each other or take care of our brothers and sisters because this is God’s will —