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Perashat Re'eh 5780 /2020

08/14/2020 04:52:43 PM


Irene Falkenstein Case

The Re'eh Torah portion is always read around the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul. Our High Holiday prayers state that Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah will alleviate the evil decree. This D’var Torah is about Tzedakah based on Devarim Chapter 15 verses 4 – 12. 

The Western concept of “Charity” is not Tzedakah. Charity implies that the recipient has no right to the gift and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. The donor gives charity from the generosity and goodness of their heart. The giving of charity is an act of virtue and grace and is not an act of obligation and righteousness. 

Tzedakah means justice, righteousness, fairness. In Judaism, giving to those in need is Tzedakah and not charity. The giving of Tzedakah is one of our religious obligations as Jews. The Jerusalem Talmud called Tzedakah “The Commandment” because Tzedakah is the most important of the practical mitzvot and is equal to all the other mitzvot together. 

This week’s Torah portion describes 3 different types of Jewish communities. The first type of Jewish community "there will be no destitute among you because G-d will surely bless you". This is an ideal community because there is love for G-d, as well as love for every Jew. There are no destitute within this community because any individual who needs assistance will immediately be helped by their family and by the community. Tzedakah may take the form of giving or lending money, as well as mentoring, providing employment, and other supportive actions. 

In the second type of Jewish community, “there will be some poor and destitute living among you.” This type of community is not as ideal. Because love and giving are not always natural for every Jew, the Torah states, "not to harden your heart or close your hand against the destitute.” Then the Torah reminds every Jew "to open your hand to give or lend to the destitute whatever is lacking." In 

anticipation of any objections, the Torah states, "You are not to feel bad when you give or lend to the poor and to the destitute, because G-d will then bless you.” There will always be some destitute within this type of Jewish community because it will take some time and effort for those in need to receive whatever is lacking. 

The third type of Jewish community is the worst possible type. Some Jews became so destitute that in order to survive, they sold themselves into slavery for a period of up to six years. Jews would only sell themselves into slavery if there were few Tzedakah or loans made available to help those in need. In this community, there are many poor and destitute people. There is a lack of kindness, love, caring, responsibility, or unity. There is also a disregard for Torah values. The poor and destitute may include not only those with financial needs but also those individuals with physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. 

The mitzvah of Tzedakah focuses on the giver, not the recipient. The Torah commands us to open our hands. There is no mention of opening our hearts. It is normal to feel some resistance while giving, but we are obligated to overcome our feelings and become givers. Therefore, give Tzedakah, and give often. Do not hesitate to give Tzedakah when you see a need. An auspicious time to give Tzedakah is during the coming month of Elul. 

You can give without loving because Tzedakah is an obligation, but you cannot love without giving. If you love G-d and your fellow Jews, then giving Tzedakah will flow from your love. However, if you stop giving Tzedakah, then you may eventually stop loving those you should be giving to. 

The generation of the destruction of the Second Temple were strict Torah observant Jews who scrupulously observed the mitzvot. 

3 They performed deeds of kindness, including giving Tzedakah. So why was the Second Temple destroyed during this generation? Because of their causeless hatred, that was a direct result of their selective giving. They were not kind to, nor did they give or lend to anyone whose viewpoint or lifestyle they disagreed with. 

G-d gives us money as a means to make His world a better place. We should not give more than 20% of our net income or less than 10%. Even Jews of limited financial means are obligated to give Tzedakah. If you give without any limits, then your giving may not be Tzedakah. Ask yourself if your giving has become a mindless habit, or a bribe, or an out-of-control commitment. You may have to give or lend to the same person many times, but you are not obligated to make that person wealthy. 

Tzedakah should be given or lent in a way to minimize the receiver’s feelings of being humiliated, embarrassed, or shamed. The goal of Tzedakah is to raise the receiver’s self-esteem, self- reliance, and independence. Also, the giver should not be allowed to feel superior. 

The first verse of Torah portion Re’eh states: “See, I am giving to you today a blessing and a curse. A blessing when you listen to G- d’s commandments and a curse if you do not listen to G-d’s commandments.” May we be blessed to build Jewish communities where "there will be no destitute among you because G-d will surely bless you.” 

Shabbat Shalom Irene Falkenstein Case 25 Av 5780 August 15, 2020

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782