Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musing Before Shabbat
Re'eh 5759
Open Your Hand


D'varim 15:11 - "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 the needy kinsman in your land." (JPS)

There will always be poor and needy among us. What does this tell us? Is this Gd the cynic, so disappointed in the product of Divine creation of humanity, that Gd despairs of our ever living in a truly just society where all needs are met? Is this Gd the realist saying I know from experience that you are essentially self-centered, so I must remind you how to behave and care for yourselves? Is it Gd the ineffable presenting us with yet another puzzle-a Gd of infinite compassion and love who has created a universe which appears, in the eyes of Gd's creations, to be fraught with built in imperfections, but in reality follows a logic we cannot fathom?

I sometimes don't get it. Why must there be poor and needy people? Why suffering, pain, and all the rest? If this is indeed some necessary part of Gd's plan, sounds like a lousy plan to me. Ah, but I can't see the "big picture" right?

Why else might there always be needy and poor among us? Is it about balance, about contrast, about the sine wave of life? To appreciate what we have, we must know what it is to be without? It's a nice idealistic thought, but the reality always seems to be different, for wealth and poverty seem to run in families, or societies, or follow other exclusionary patterns. An awful lot of wealthy people don't know what it is like to do without (for that matter, an awful lot of not so wealthy people also don't know what it's like to do without.) And most poor know little about what they don't have although that is changing somewhat in this age.

Are the poor foils and reminders for the rich? There was a time when seeing someone in need inspired someone in better shape to help out. Or was there ever such a time? The Torah seems to imply not, else why remind us of this obligation? Both here in D'varim, and throughout the writings of the Prophets we are reminded of our obligation to the needy, and chastised for our failure to do so.

A little sidebar: In D'varim 15: 9, we are told:

"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." (JPS)

I cannot help but make a subtle connection here between this injunction and the Xtian faith. Gd has commanded us regarding the seventh year and the remission of debts, but reminds us this is no excuse to sin and not help our needy kinsmen. Would that more Xtians might acknowledge that the remission of sin wrought through their savior requires a similar warning from Gd to not use it as an excuse to transgress.

In all fairness, I must point out that obviously the Israelites did not heed this warning, thus leading to the creation of the prosbul by Hillel. Loans were hard to get in the year before the the rabbis created a legal device (only private loans were subject to being cancelled by the sabbatical-the prosbul enabled a loan to be considered a public loan and thus not subject to the shemitah laws) that allowed a loan to remain collectible despite the sabbatical year release, with the intent of making it easier to get a loan close to the sabbatical year. I also have to wonder who really benefited from this-the poor, or the lenders? I think even the great Hillel might have been suckered by the wealthy on this one.

In the end, is any of this discourse necessary? Is it not enough to know that it is good and right (and that Gd commands us) to open our hands to the poor and the needy? I can imagine few arguments against the concept.

Well, enough musings on all that. I'd like to close by borrowing from my wife, Karen Daniel, the lyrics to a song she wrote based on the text of D'varim 15:11, entitled "Open Your Hand."

Open your hand to your brother
the poor and the needy in the land
Open your hand to your sister
I command: Open your hand.

We all have enough
More than we will ever need
And all around is jealousy and greed
Just remember it could be us
The wolf is knocking at the door
We give thanks for Gd's abundance
By giving to the poor, so

Open your hand to your brother
The poor and the needy in the land
Open your hand to your sister
I command: Open your hand.

Shabbat Shalom,


©1999 by Adrian A. Durlester


Some Other Musings on the Same Parasha

Re'eh 5765--Revised 5759-Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5760/5763--B'lo l'sav'a
Re'eh 5757/5758--How To Tell Prophet From Profit

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