In Deuteronomy 15:4 we read one of the most categorical words in the Bible: אפס efes as in zero, none, bubkas, nada, not a single one. “There shall be efes needy among you …”
But just a few sentences later (Deuteronomy 15:11) we read, “The poor shall never cease to be in the land.”
How can the Torah say one thing and seven sentences later say the complete opposite?
The resolution to this “Great Contradiction” lies in the conditional nature of our Covenant with God.
The Covenant has always been conditional.
When our people began, God promised Abraham and us protection, children, permanence as a people and the and of Israel on condition that we be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2), follow God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1), and practice and teach our children to fill the world with, “tzedakah u’mishpat, righteousness and justice.”
Those are still the terms!
“There will be no poor or needy” if and only if all people are giving, caring, sensitive to the needs of others and generous. But since that is not likely to happen, we who take our covenantal obligation seriously must be aware of and ready to open our hearts and our hands to the poor and needy.
It goes back to the essential question Cain Asked God:
Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
God’s answer to us is the same as to Cain: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me…” (Genesis 4:10 -11)
Hopefully we hear and respond to those plaintive cries today: Until we become our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, the just caring and compassionate society that God called us to create will never to be more than a wistful hope.
4 thoughts on “The Bible’s Great Contradiction, And what It Teaches Us”
Hi Rabbi! The first sentence says “no needy among you” and in the second one it says, “…poor will never cease to be in the land.” Okay, so could it be that the former suggests there will be no poor in our proximity while the latter alludes to the poor being scattered throughout the world? Hence, the Torah tells us that once we help the needy close by, we should then go further and further away to help the rest. What do you think?
Great post, by the way!
Wonderful idea! I think whatever we do to help those in need is a blessing that brings the world just a bit closer to the ideal—though it is an ideal we may never reach—of no needy anywhere!
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I see no contradiction here. Deuteronomy verse 4 passage refers to “among you” meaning the people of G-d. While verse 11 identifies what is “in the land” and you know there are more than just His people in the land.
Interesting! I see a definite contradiction between “There will be no needy …” And effectively, there will,always be needy. I don’t interpret among you to mean anything different than in the land.
For me the clear contradiction is an important call to duty for all of us.
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