A Torah Reading Dilemma
This Shabbat presents a Torah reading dilemma for Reform Jews. It is the eighth day of Passover, but most Reform Jews observe only seven days. The movement’s solution– which I find arbitrary and unsatisfactory–is to separate from the rest of the Jewish world by dividing the Torah portion Shemini (Lev. 10 12) into two weekly portions. Half will be read this Shabbat and half next week.
A Magnificent Lesson
I much prefer to read from the eighth day Passover portion because of the magnificent lesson it teaches. To appreciate that lesson we must pay heed to a stark contradiction in the text!
in Deuteronomy 15:4 we read a categorical statement beginning with one of the most categorical of all Hebrew words, אפס (efes), which means, “zero” or “not a single one.” “There shall be no needy among you.”
But just several sentences later (DT:15:11) we read,”For the poor shall never cease to exist in your land!”
The lesson is that if everyone followed God’s commandments and fulfilled our half of the covenant the Eternal One first made with Abraham and Sarah, there would indeed be no needy among us. That covenant calls on us to
–be a blessing in our lives (Genesis 12:2)
–try as best we can to understand and be worthy of God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1)
–and to our best and teach our progeny to do their best to fill the world with Tzedakah and Mishpat, “righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19)
Yes, if everyone did those things, there would be no needy among us!
But the hard truth remains that not everyone will live up to those teachings, and therefore, there will always be needy among us.
The imperative, then, for those of us who take Torah seriously is to do all that we can to alleviate the poverty around us. We dare not harden our hearts nor tighten our fist in the face of the poor who cry out to us. Rather to the best of our ability we must take responsibility for them and do what we can to help.
Not a Formula But an Attitude
Of course that will mean different things to difference people. The Torah is not telling us each precisely what we must do. It’s goal is to affect our attitude. Each of us must decide: do we take responsibility for improving life in our world or do we simply consider our own selfish needs? The Torah’s answer is clear, and the end of the festival during which we have proclaimed,”Let all who are hungry come and eat, (Haggadah)” is a perfect time to remind ourselves of that lesson.