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Devar Tora for Perashat Re'eh

08/06/2021 01:41:09 PM

Aug6

Irene Falkenstein Case

This Shabbat we bless the New Month of Elul.  Rosh Chodesh Elul starts immediately after this Shabbat ends and continues until sunset Monday.  Elul is the month that immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  During Elul, we make a greater effort to become closer to G-d through repentance (Teshuva), prayer (Tefila) and Tzedakah.  

 

Tzedakah is called “The Commandment” because it is the most important of the practical commandments.  Tzedakah means justice, righteousness, fairness.  In Judaism, giving or lending to the poor is not considered as a generous, magnanimous act but instead, it is an act of justice and righteousness, and the performance of a religious obligation.  

 

The mitzvah of Tzedakah focuses on the giver, not the recipient.  Tzedakah requires both the heart and the hand.  The Torah commands us to open our hands.  There is no mention of opening our hearts.  It is normal to feel some resistance, but we are obligated to overcome our feelings and become givers.  

 

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, reminds us to give and to lend to each other.  Lending to other Jews is one method of performing Tzedakah.  Deut. 15:1 – 9 states that debts between Jews are to be released at the end of the Shmitah year, a year which occurs once every 7 years.  We should not hesitate to lend to each other even when the Shmitah year is soon approaching.  The reward for lending and debts being released is “there will no longer be any destitute people among us for G-d will repeatedly bless us.”

 

I want to tell you of a special Tzedakah opportunity.  This coming Jewish year 5782, only one month away, is a Shmitah year.  Shmitah is one of the supra-rational Torah commandments.  According to the Torah, the Shmitah year is something like an agricultural Shabbat.  Just like every Jew is commanded to rest on Shabbat, agricultural lands within the borders of Biblical Israel are commanded to rest for the entire duration of Shmitah.  From Rosh Hashanah 5782 until Rosh Hashanah 5783, Israeli-Jewish farmers, who observe the mitzvot of Shmitah, let their land lay fallow.  No farming, tilling the soil, planting seeds, plowing, harvesting, and pruning is to be done during the Shmitah year.  In addition to prohibiting working the land, the selling or purchasing of Israeli-farmed produce grown during Shmitah is also prohibited since this produce are considered ownerless property.  Shmitah does not apply to land outside the borders of the Biblical Land of Israel.  

 

The loss of income for not farming for an entire year is a very difficult challenge that requires both self-sacrifice and great religious faith.  After the Shmitah year is over, the Israeli-Jewish farmers may discover that they have lost some or all their pre-Shmitah customers and/or employees.  

 

Shmitah 5782 has more challenges than many of the previous Shmitah years because many Israeli-Jewish farmers have already suffered financial losses during the COVID pandemic.  Observing Shmitah 5782 can result in two years in a row with no income from farming.  Even worse, 5782 is a leap year with an additional month of no income from farming.

 

Shmitah has always been an overwhelming financial, emotional, and spiritual challenge.  The Israeli-Jewish farmer risks losing his farm and livelihood to debt if he does not have the necessary financial assistance to pay the taxes, lease-loan payments, and other obligations.  These farmers also need financial assistance to provide for their families.  One way that Jews in the diaspora can observe Shmitah is to partner with Israeli-Jewish farmers and their families to provide them with the resources and financial assistance needed during the one-year-long observance of Shmitah.  

 

Parshat Re’eh mentions 3 times the giving of tithes and donations to the Levites, the only Jewish tribe that did not own any land.  During the Shmitah year, the Israeli-Jewish farmers are like the Levites because they cannot derive any income from their land.  These farmers are solely dependent on the support of other Jews.  Please help them because all Jews are responsible for one another.

 

By donating $45 per tree to Zo Artzeinu’s Shmitah Campaign (www.israeltrees.org/shmitta) you can partner with an Israeli farmer to plant fruit trees on their land.  This is the last planting season before Shmitah.  Israeli farmers cannot plant trees during 5782.  Through a partnership with an Israeli-Jewish farmer, you too will be observing the mitzvah of Shmitah.  

 

By donating $180 to the Ahavas Olam Torah Center of Southfield MI (www.theshmitaproject.org) you can purchase a designated portion [18” x 18”] plot of cultivated land in Eretz Yisroel at Yishuv Talmon.  One Jew or a group of Jews can purchase the plot of land.  The entire parcel of land will not be worked during the Shmitah year.  Any produce of that land will be abandoned and declared ownerless.  

By donating to Keren Hashviis (www.kerenhashviis.org) you can fulfill your mitzvah of Shmitah by partnering with an Israeli-Jewish farmer by purchasing a parcel of farmland 1,000 sq. ft or larger that will lay fallow during Shmitah year 5782.  At the end of 5782, the land you purchased will revert to the original Israeli-Jewish farmer.  The cost of 1,000 sq ft is $1,200 US dollars.  Several Jews can get together as a group to purchase 1,000 or more sq. ft of Israeli farmland.  The cost of purchasing the farmland can be made in installments.  

A Jewish woman who donates $360 to Nshei Keren Hashviis (www.nsheikerenhashviis.com) participates in a special women’s campaign to raise a dollar a day.  This donation will provide farmers’ wives with the support they need during the coming Shmitah year for all those “extra” expenses – on top of the mortgage, utilities, and food. 

This week’s Torah portion says to the Jew who cannot decide whether or not to give, G-d says, “You shall not harden your heart”:  To the Jew who wants to give but then hesitates, G-d says, “You shall not close your hand.”  The Torah warns against our all-too-human fear that one cannot afford to give by commanding us "to give to the poor and destitute."  In anticipation of any objections, G-d states "You are not to feel bad when you repeatedly give to the poor and destitute, because G-d will then bless you". 

 

We may be reluctant to donate to Israeli-Jewish farmers who have committed to observe Shmitah 5782 because they did not use Shmitah workarounds, such as selling their farmland to non-Jewish Israelis or raising crops using hydroponics.  This donor hesitancy was common immediately before the destruction of the Second Temple.  These Jews were very Torah observant and performed deeds of kindness including giving Tzedakah.  But they were not kind to nor did they give to anyone with an opposing viewpoint or lifestyle.  Their selective generosity led to causeless hatred which led to the destruction of the Second Temple.  

 

Tonight, starts Rosh Chodesh Elul, the last month of the Jewish year.  An auspicious time to give Tzedakah is during the month of Elul.  Please open your hand and make a generous donation for this once in every 7-year Tzedakah opportunity.  Your generosity will enable farmers to observe Shmitah.  Rosh Hashanah 5782 is a little more than 4 weeks from today.  Do not let delay making your donation.  All transactions must be completed before Erev Rosh Hashanah 5782.  

 

Elul is the Jewish month of prayer, forgiveness and acts of generosity and kindness.  May Elul be a meaningful time of growth for us all.  L’Shana Tova and may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Good Life.  

Thu, December 2 2021 28 Kislev 5782