Adrian A. Durlester

Home About Adrian Designs Plays&Shpiels Random Musing Musings Archive Services for Hire Resume Links

Random Musings Archives

Random Musing Before Shabbat
Re'eh 5765 - Open Your Hand (Revised 5759)


Timing really is everything. Back in 1999 I wrote a musing for parashat Re'eh entitled "Open Your Hand." It seems only appropriate to repeat it this year, considering the tragedy of hurricane Katrina and other tragedies around the world. I've edited the musing a bit, and added some new comments and thoughts for this year.

I imagine I don't need to exhort any of you to do your part to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.



Random Musings Before Shabbat - Re'eh 5759
Revised and Edited for 5765

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.

[5765] I was in a bit of despair those first few days after the gulf coast was trampled by hurricane Katrina. While there were some wonderful examples of people "rising to the occasion" there have also been the troubling aspects of acts of desperation, and, sadly, the criminal element taking advantage of the situation. I lived in New Orleans back in the late 70s. I think of all the wonderful people I met and knew while living there. It is sad that their goodness and kindness is being besmirched by a few criminals. And though I was living in the "new South" I remember first hand the racial tensions, and the brutality of policeman and the discourteousness of officials to people of color. In all that I have seen, I do have to wonder if the priorities being used to aid and help the suffering haven't changed much since then.

And of course, I find myself asking "why, G"d? Why this, why now?" Did G"d not promise to never again destroy the earth with floods. First last year's tsunami, now the typhoons in Asia and hurricane Katrina here, and who knows what else is yet to come. It really is enough to challenge one's faith in the One.

Even the haftarah mocks at me.

Ho, all who are thirsty, Come for water. Even if you have no money; Come buy and eat; Buy food without money, Wine and milk without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)

Would that it were so easy for those without money to buy food without it. Would that G"d would really live up to the promise of the next verse:

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, Your earning for what does not satisfy? Give heed to Me And you shall eat choice food And enjoy the richest viands. (Isaiah 55:2)

Are you listening G"d. I know plenty in this world who truly incline their ears to you. Many of them the poorest and neediest of people. I suspect that for many of them, their faith in You does indeed sustain them through the hardships of life. But why must they suffer? As Teyve asks, would it be so bad if they had, perhaps, a small fortune? While humanity does not live by bread alone, it would sure be nice to sometimes have a little more bread...

Yet I also think the haftarah goes on to ask a question that challenges not only us as individuals, but our officials, and our governments, and their policies:

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, Your earning for what does not satisfy." (Isaiah 55:2)

This just as easily applies to governments and corporations.

And so we have set before us, as our parasha states at the outset, blessing and curse. I sometimes think it is hard to know which is which.

On the one hand, we have many in government who posture a self-righteous position of being G"d-fearing and G"d-loving people. On the other hand, these same people wage war, and put our own sons and daughters in harms way. Yet it is this same war machine that is now finally rescuing the victims of Katrina. Blessing and curse?

Mississippi's ailing educational system was resuscitated and brought back to life by the presence of casinos in Biloxi. Yet gambling often takes money from those who can least afford it. And now these casinos are gone. What will happen to Mississippi's schools? It will be interesting to see how fast the casinos get rebuilt. Blessing and curse?

Yet it's easy to draw conclusions without all the data. And we are still early in this drama as it unfolds (though it likely appears different from the victims point of view.)

Perhaps we are the nation that does not know G"d" that will coming running to G"d? that Isaiah speaks of the 55:5. [end 5765]

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 the music of 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.

[5765] We would do well to all heed these words.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2005 (parts ©1999) by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Re'eh 5766--Lo Toseif V'Lo Tigra
Re'eh 5761-Our Own Gifts
Re'eh 5760/5763--B'lo l'sav'a
Re'eh 5759--Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5757/5758--How To Tell Prophet From Profit

Home About Adrian Designs Plays&Shpiels Random Musing Musings Archive Services for Hire Resume Links

Email Me A Comment!