“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse (Deuteronomy 11:26)
Freedom of choice has been granted to every man: if he desires to turn toward a good path and be righteous, the ability to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to turn toward an evil path and be wicked, the ability to do so is in his hands . . .
This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments. As it is written [Deuteronomy 30:15]: “See, I have set before you life [and good, and death and evil]” and “See, I set before you today [a blessing and a curse].” . . . For were G‑d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, or if there were to exist something in the very essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed . . . how could G‑d command us through the prophets, “Do this” and “do not do this” . . . ? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G‑d punish the wicked and reward the righteous? (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 5:1–3)”
“Tsdaka is deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition and the Jewish community. Jews have long been noted as donors to charity far out of proportion to their share of the population.
It is unlikely that this is the natural human instinct – we hoard, we protect what we have. Sheli, sheli; shelcha shelcha – “what’s mine is mine; what’s yours is yours,” it says in Pirkei Avot (5:12) – that’s the approach of your average bloke. Giving, sharing with others, particularly those we don’t know, is a later evolutionary stage; it’s an acquired “taste,” not what we’d normally do. We have to condition ourselves, to teach it to our children, which is best done by example. I have a cousin who told me years ago, “I learned to give from my parents; they always gave.” Tsdaka reminds us the good fortune we have has come through Divine assistance and we should try to advance tsedek, justice, in the world by sharing.”
“Parashat R’eih begins with a set of instructions to the Israelite people that will apply when they cross the Jordan River and enter the land of the Canaanites, promised to the Patriarchs for their descendants. Announced by Moses in advance, they were to go into effect only when the conquest was complete and the people were settled in their new home (Deuteronomy 11:31–32).
What is the first commandment that becomes operable after the crossing and the conquest? “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site” (12:2–3).”
“Sometimes the Torah reveals its deeper meanings to us through elaborate interpretation and subtle analysis. At other times, Torah speaks to us directly across the millennia, with little need for mediation. Our passage this week falls in this latter category – here is my lightly adapted translation:
“If there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy fellow. Rather, open, yes, open your hand, and lend, yes, lend sufficiently to meet their need. Watch yourself, lest you harbor the base thought, “I will never see this loan repaid.” Give, give readily, and have no regrets when you do so. And as a result, YHVH will bless you in all of your efforts and all of your undertakings. For there will always be needy among you, and therefore I command you: open, open your hand to the poor and to the needy in your land. (Deut. 15:7-11)”
“What is the role of the prophet? Is a prophet a soothsayer, a future teller or is a prophet someone who says what needs to be said when it needs to be said? This question can perhaps be answered by understanding a little of the history of this week’s haftarah. Modern biblical scholars speculate that the latter chapters of the book of Isaiah (40-66) are the product of a later prophet who prophesied during the period of Shivat Zion – the period of time when the exiled people of Judea returned from Babylonia. This means that the prophecies offered in this section of the book, instead of being messages offered to a people confronted by the onslaught of the Assyrians, like in the first part of the book, were meant to contend with the uncertainties of a people returning from Babylonian exile.”