The first time I drove into our beautiful Temple Beth Sholom parking lot and campus, I was struck by its tremendous beauty. It is absolutely gorgeous, and our hard-working staff take tremendous pride in maintaining it to perfection. Then my eyes happened to look down the block and I noticed someone who was homeless, pushing all their worldly possessions in a shopping cart in front of them. Some evenings, the homeless use the parking lots around us as shelter. The contrast is stark and heart-breaking.
This disparity in wealth and living conditions in society has existed since the beginning of time and is addressed in our Torah portion for this week, Re’eh:
If however, there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend what is sufficient to meet the need. Beware, lest …you are mean and give nothing to your needy kin – who will cry out to the Eternal against you, and you will incur guilt. Give readily and have no regrets…For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land. (Deut. 15: 7-11)
Immediately prior to this, the Torah explains that God is giving us good land with enough food to feed all, so there will “never be needy among you.” How can these two seemingly contradictory ideas exist simultaneously in the Torah: enough food for all and yet, an acknowledgement that there will always exist those who are hungry?
This is an acknowledgement of the ideal versus reality, the situation that still exists to this very day. We know too well that we produce enough food to feed everyone on our planet. No one ever needs to go hungry, or lack shelter, clothing, or any of their basic human needs. Yet, poverty, hunger, and homelessness continue to persist, to plague the human condition. We also know that Covid exacerbated the situation between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
Parshat Re’eh teaches that we can negate the inequities in society by serving as God’s hands. Our faith in God must be an impetus to action and not an excuse for inertia. The 18th century chasidic Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov puts this idea in even more audacious terms. He used to tell his followers: “There are times when we must actually believe that there is no God! For example, when someone who is needy comes to ask you for bread, you must not send him away with such comforting words as, ‘God will provide,’ nor may you use God as an excuse by saying, ‘If God wanted you to have my money, then you would have it.’ At that moment, you must act as if there is no God, and you are the only one who can help.”
How will you make a difference this week?
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom