August 18-19, 2017 • 27 Av 5777
Annual (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17): Etz Hayim p. 1061-1084; Hertz p. 799-818
Triennial (Deuteronomy 11:26-12:28): Etz Hayim p. 1061-1067; Hertz p. 799-804
Haftarah (Isaiah 54:11-55:5): Etz Hayim p. 1085-1087; Hertz p. 818-819
Tsdaka – When Giving is Receiving
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Coordinator, Torah Sparks, CY, Jerusalem
The late Rabbi Pinchas Peli of Jerusalem told the story of the soldiers being inducted into the US Army. The drill sergeant took attendance the first day:
Callaghan? “Here.” DeMarco? “Here.” Liebowitz? “Fifty dollars.”
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.
The Ten Commandments are considered by many religions, and by many non-religious people as well, to be a summary of the fundamental laws for a civil society – don’t kill, steal, do adultery, or give false witness. But we don’t find a duty to help the poor in the language of the Ten Commandments.
The Rabbis read the Torah differently. Rashi says that all 613 mitsvot are implicitly contained in the Ten Commandments, and Saadya Gaon (10th C Babylonia) assigned each mitsvah to a specific Commandment. Tsadaka comes within the 6th Commandment – You shall not murder. The Shulchan Orech explains the connection:
One must be very careful about the mitsvah of tsadaka, because one can actually spill another’s blood, if the poor person who requests help dies because the person who was asked delays in giving help. This is one of the reasons why we do not make the blessing for fulfilling a mitsvah before giving charity, lest the poor person waiting suffer more even for this short delay.
The Talmud tells about a fellow named Binyamin HaTsaddik (“the righteous one”), and remember that the description “tsaddik” is rarely used and that this story is the only thing we know about Binyamin.
Binyamin HaTsaddik was in charge of the charity fund in his town. One day, during years of drought, a woman came to him and said: ‘Sir, help me.’
He replied, ‘I give you my word under oath; there is not a penny in the charity fund.’
She said, ‘Sir, if you do not help me, a woman and her seven children will perish.’ He reached into his own pocket and gave her assistance.
Why does the Talmud call Binyamin a tsaddik? Because he did not delay, he did not tell the woman in need to “submit a written request, you can download the form at the website. The Committee will meet next week.” He helped her on the spot, from his own pocket.
And if she was desperate, (it was a time of great drought), we also know that Binyamin and the others in the town was also suffering very hard times; this was a poor, agricultural society. He gave from his table. His family had less to eat because they gave to help others. May we never know the poverty that Binyamin HaTaddik and his contemporaries had to face, but may we be guided by his example.
A Vort for Parashat Re’eh
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, Coordinator, Torah Sparks
Deut 15:4 says “there will be no poor person among you” but then seems to contradict itself: “there will always be poor people in the land” (v. 11). Ha’Midrash ṿ’Ma-Maʻaśeh (R’ Yehzkel Lifshitz, 1864-1932, Lithuania/Poland) said the latter verse is no excuse not to give tsdaka. The fact that there will be poor in the land does not justify “poor among you” (ev’yon b’ḥa), “on your watch.” Citing verse 11 the Maggid of Kelm (19th preacher, Lithuania, a student of R’ Israel Salanter) would tell the rich that it is in their interest to support the poor, lest they die of illness or hunger and the rich have to take their place.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
This Parasha is full of various topics that touch the life as it will be conducted once we enter the land and have a central religious/cultic place of practice for both public and private events.
1) Upon entering the land we are instructed to destroy all places of worship of those who lived in the land before us (12:1-3). Where are we likely to find the worship places? Can you think of current shrines (of any religion) that exemplifies that holy sites are in such places?
2) The reality of being in the land will necessitate some changes to the laws of the meat (12:20-25). Where was meat eaten initially? How will that change once they enter the land? What prohibition, pertaining to eating meat, will not change? Why is this forbidden?
3) A tithe (ma’aser) has to be taken out (14:22-27). From what is a tithe taken? What is done with it? What is this supposed to teach us? How do you think that we learn it from performing this Mitzvah? Can you suggest some similar act today that will give us that message?
4) In Shmot 21 we learnt about a Hebrew slave, here we learn about what happens when it is time for the slave to leave (15:12-18). When does the Hebrew slave become free again? What does the owner have to give him? Why do you think that the owner is told not to send the slave away empty handed?
5) The parasha ends with a review of the Chagim, Holidays. How is the date of Shavuot set (16:9-12)? Who should we include in the joyous celebration? Why do you think that these people are mentioned? Why does the Torah remind us here that we were slaves in Egypt?