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August 27, 2022: Parashat Re'eh – It’s All About Charity

This week’s parashah is taken from Deuteronomy 11:26–16:10. Listen in as David discusses the importance of CHARITY.

Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah:

This week’s parashah is Parashat Re’eh. We open up the fourth part of Moses’ final speech to the Children of Israel, with Moses clarifying a blessing and a curse before the nation, and preliminary plans to place them on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (this will soon be elaborated upon in a future parashah); Hashem’s command to destroy the high places of worship set up by the peoples of the Land they were about to conquer; instructions on where to perform the sacrificial service once in the Land; instructions not to eat the blood of animals; a reminder not to forsake the Levites; instructions on what to do with a prophet or dreamer that attempts to steer the people away from Hashem; a warning not to cut the flesh in memory of a dead person; a listing of kosher dietary allowances and restrictions; various tithing laws; the seven-year cycle; and finally, guarding the three high holidays of the year: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

And so we open up the Torah portion with the following words from Deuteronomy 11:26-28:

רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃

אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֹת֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃

וְהַקְּלָלָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֹת֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וְסַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לָלֶ֗כֶת אַחֲרֵ֛י אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם׃ ס

See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing that you listen to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow the gods of others, that you did not know.”

First, why is the word “רְאֵה” (“re’eh”) or “see” used? Wouldn’t the word “hear” be more appropriate as is used in previous chapters? For instance, “Hear, O Israel, today you cross the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy 9:1); or in the Shema: “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

This is an interesting choice of word and action by Moses to “see” in this week’s parashah. Second, “see” what? What is Moses presenting before the people “this day” that they can see tangibly as a blessing and a curse? If we interpret the Hebrew, the first words “רְאֵה אָנֹכִי” (“re’eh anochi”) can be translated rather as: “See me”. This is Moses saying to the people: “Look at me”… “Identify my Godly attributes”… “Recognize my accomplishments as your leader”… “Look at me and replicate me”. For 40 long years, Moses led the nation through the Wilderness – he was their ultimate role model as leader and teacher, guiding them in the ways of Hashem, teaching them the Torah and how to realize the blessings of Hashem, and to steer clear of the curses.

Moses goes on to say in the following verse (Deuteronomy 11:29): “It shall be that when Hashem, your God, brings you to the Land to which you come, to possess it, then you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.”

Here, Moses is telling the people that once they enter the Land (under the command of Joshua), they will “placethe blessing and the curse that they are being asked to “see” here, upon the two mountains that are located far within the Land. Interesting. So the people are being asked to “seethe blessing and the curse, and then at some point in the future, they will “placethe blessing and the curse on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, respectively.

Let’s backtrack a touch. Right before the start of this parashah, at the end of last week’s parashah (Eikev), in Deuteronomy 11:24, we read: “Every place where the sole of your foot will tread shall be yours; from the Wilderness and the Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates River, until the western sea shall be your boundary.”

This is a declaration of the physical land and borders that the people were about to inherit… “where the sole of your foot will tread shall be yours”. Here we have this declaration of inheritance being followed up by an action command to “see” the blessing and the curse as revealed in the life and teachings of Moses, followed up further by the action to “placethe blessing and the curse on two physical mountains in the Land. These are two very tangible acts. What is ringing through very clearly here is that “knowing” is not enough. In order to fully embrace the blessing and the curse, the people must actively “see” and “place”.

So, what are the blessing and the curse? Let’s turn back to Deuteronomy 11:13-17: “And it will be that if listening, you will listen to My commandments that I command you today, to love Hashem, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, [here’s the blessing] then I shall provide the rain for your land in its time, the early rain and the late rain; and you shall bring in your grain, your wine, and your oil. I shall provide grass in your field for your animal and you will eat and you will be satisfied. Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you will turn astray and you will serve other gods and prostrate yourselves to them. [and here’s the curse] Then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you: He will restrain the heavens and there will be no rain, and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will perish quickly from the good Land that Hashem gives you.

As you can “see”, the blessing and the curse are very physical things – the choice between rain or no rain… between abundance or scarcity in the Land. Hence, there is an importance for the people to “see” and eventually “place” as a reminder in the Land… that the blessing and the curse have to do with the abundance of the Land.

In fact, in this last set of verses, we see the start of an interesting trend of phrases that continues through into this week’s parashah. In the first words, we read: “If listening, you will listen” In Hebrew, it reads: “שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ” (“shamoa tish’me’u”), which is what is known as a tautological infinitive verb where two different forms of the same verb are used in sequence. The effect is to double up the impact of the verb so that it is more impactful. Another way of wording the phrase is “to surely listen” instead of simply “to listen”.

We come across another tautological infinitive in last week’s parashah. In Deuteronomy 11:22, we read: “if observing, you will observe” (“שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן” “shamor tish’merun”). Take note that these two tautological infinitives from last week’s parashah begin with a conditional statement of “if” – “if you surely hear” and “if you surely see”.

In this week’s parashah, we come across some more tautological infinitives, but without the conditional “if” statements. Instead, they are commands. In Deuteronomy 12:2, we read: “Destroy, you shall destroy…” [the high places in the Land]. In Deuteronomy 13:16: “Smite, you shall smite…” [the false prophets]. In Deuteronomy 14:22: “Tithe, you shall tithe…” In Deuteronomy 15:11: “Opening, you shall open…” [your hand to the needy]. In Deuteronomy 15:8: “Grant, you shall grant…” [a loan to the needy]. In Deuteronomy 15:10: “Giving, you shall give…” And finally, Deuteronomy 15:14: “Extend, you shall extend…

Do you see a trend playing out here? Last week’s parashah highlights the two conditional statements (“if”), followed by six follow-on commands in this week’s parashah. The transition goes like this: If you surely “listen” and “observe”, then surely “destroy” the high places and surely “smite” the false prophets. In addition, surely “tithe” and “open” your hand, “give” and “extend” your hand to the needy. The commands start out with ridding the Land of any deterrents to following after Hashem before commanding to take care of the poor, the needy, the orphan, the widow and the convert.

It is interesting that Moses alludes here to elevating charity to such a high level upon entering the Land. Why? Because he is just replicating Hashem, and if Hashem says to place a high importance on charity to the poor and needy, then we are to listen and obey. In other words, charity is an obligation. First, by blessing or curse, the produce of the Land will either bring forth abundance or not. Of course, the preference should always be for an abundance, and under such a scenario of abundance, charity is to be given a high level of importance. Why? Because the Land belongs to the One and Only… the Land belongs to Hashem. The Land is His to give and it is His to take away.

There is a very important lesson to learn here: Everything in this world and in this universe belongs to Hashem and no other.; and He determines our lots in life. As a result, we should always be so thankful for what we have – all of which does not belong to us, but to Him; and we should not covet what does not belong to us.

We see the first command with respect to charity in Deuteronomy 12:6: “…Your olah-offerings [burnt-offerings] and your sacrifices, and your tithes and what is raised of your hand, your vow offerings and your free-will offerings, and the firstborn of your cattle and your flocks.”

Much of this verse includes offerings in which the Levites and the descendants of Aaron (the Kohanim) partake in – peace-offerings in which the Kohanim partook, the tithes that went to the Levites, and the firstfruits and firstborn of cattle that went to the Kohanim. In Deuteronomy 12:19, it is made quite clear: “Beware for yourself lest you forsake the Levite, all your days on your Land” and again in Deuteronomy 14:27: “And the Levite who is in your cities, do not forsake him, for he does not have a portion or an inheritance with you.” It was the Levites and the Kohanim who performed the service of the Tabernacle (and later, Temple) and taught the people Torah, who had no portion or inheritance in the Land, and hence, the responsibility of providing for them fell upon the rest of the nation.

Regarding the tithes, the subject of tithing is not a simple matter as is viewed today, where one simply gives 10% of their earnings. There were in fact multiple tithes that were obligated to be given out at various times throughout the seven-year cycle. There was Terumah that was the “firstfruits of the Land” that went to the Kohanim (no precise amount is given in the Torah, but the Mishnah mentions that it was typically on average around 2% of the agricultural produce). The First Tithe was a tenth of agricultural produce that specifically went to the Levites (out of which a further tenth was tithed to the Kohanim by the Levites) – this was given in each of the first six years. The Second Tithe was another tenth of agricultural produce where the owner would take it and eat it in Jerusalem – this was done in the first, second, fourth and fifth years. And then there was the Tithe of the Poor which was a tithe exclusively for the poor – this was given in the third and sixth years.

As it says in Deuteronomy 14:28-29: “At the end of three years [each three-year period] you shall take out every tithe of your crop in that year and set it down within your cities. Then the Levite shall come – for he has no portion or inheritance with you – and the convert, and the orphan, and the widow who are in your cities, and they shall eat and be satisfied, in order that Hashem, your God, will bless you in all your handiwork that you may undertake.

Finally, on the seventh year of the seven-year cycle, there were no tithes given out. This was known as the Shemittah sabbatical year. “Shemittah” (“שְּׁמִטָּה”) means “release” – and in the seventh year, this meant a release from agricultural activity (such as plowing and reaping), as well as a release of all Jewish bondservants that were obligated to pay off debts through indentured labour. [As an aside, we can learn a lot from the seven-year cycle in application to our debt-ridden economies today.]

Deuteronomy 15:4 carries some interesting words: “There shall be no destitute among you; for blessing, Hashem will bless you in the Land that Hashem, your God, will give you as an inheritance, to take possession of it.

Yet, in Deuteronomy 15:7, Moses goes on to say: “If there shall be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your Land that Hashem, your God, gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother.

This sounds like a contradiction. Which one is it? In fact, the two verses go hand in hand. Moses is saying to the people that when they embrace Hashem and His ways, there will not be a destitute one among them. However, if they turn away from Hashem and His ways, there will be destitute ones among them.

Moses goes on to say in Deuteronomy 15:8: Opening, you shall open your hand to him […to your destitute brother to offer a gift], and grant, you shall grant him [… to your destitute brother as a loan].

In Verse 10, Moses continues: “Giving, you shall give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for because of this matter, Hashem, your God, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.” He continues in Verse 11: “For destitute people will not cease to exist within the Land…In a “perfect world”, there would be no destitute people, but the reality is that the destitute have always existed among us, and Moses was just pointing out the obvious reality.

Finally, specifically regarding the release of bondservants in the Shemittah year, Moses says in Deuteronomy 15:14: “Extend, you shall extend a grant to him from your flocks, from your threshing floor, and from your wine pit; with which Hashem, your God, has blessed you, so shall you give him.

Moses closes out the parashah by twice saying: “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12) – to remind the people of their humble origins, and that it was only by the mighty hand of Hashem that they came out of Egypt and were about to enter the Promised Land. They had all been treated as the worst of slaves, and now they were being asked to remember and reflect, to take stock of where they had come, and never to treat their destitute in the Land in the same manner that they were treated in Egypt.

In Deuteronomy 16:11, Moses says: “You shall rejoice before Hashem, your God – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite who is in your cities, the convert, the orphan, and the widow who are among you.” There is a fascinating insight here if the verse is divided into two groups of four – First: your son, your daughter, your slave and your maidservant – this group is “yours” – they belong to you. And the Second group: the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow – they belong to Hashem. Hashem has a special place in His heart for these four groups – the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow – that have the greatest likelihood of ending up as destitute ones. We are never told precisely why Hashem has a tender heart for the lowest ones in society, but I’m sure it has a lot to do with understanding the attribute of humility.

As it says in Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth!” – Moses was an icon of humility. Remember the inner meaning of the first two words of the parashah: “רְאֵה אָנֹכִי” (“re’eh anochi”) – “Look at me”? Moses was telling the people to look at him as the point of reflection for all the words that he was about to speak to them – on how to hold on to the blessing and how to stay clear of the curse – by remaining humble, by taking care of the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow amongst them.

We look similarly to our Master Yeshua as the humble servant that he was, looking to replicate him in his actions and his teachings. Much of the work during his life was spent amongst the destitute – the poor and the needy – and there were plenty enough of them amongst the society of the day. Sure, the situation could have been blamed on Rome – the tyrannical overlord of the day – but the reality is that the nation wasn’t walking in the essence of the Torah, and this is clear given the circumstance of those in need of charity, and Yeshua’s stark rebukes for the religious authorities of the day. It was at such a dark time as this that Yeshua came into the world.

Returning back to Deuteronomy 15:7, there is a precious nugget hidden I’d like to dig up; to rephrase: “If there shall be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that Hashem, your God, gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother.

There is a hidden allusion here of the Messiah, presented as that “destitute person” “among you” brought down by Or HaChaim. He comments: “We may say that the verse is stating an allusion… regarding the one and singular person in our nation for whom we hope and await, long for the day when he will arrive, namely, the king of Israel, our Messiah, who is referred to here as a destitute person. Indeed, we find that he has already been likened to a pauper… as it says in Zechariah 9:9: ‘a pauper riding on a donkey’, that Messiah will appear in this manner if the Jewish people are not worthy. Our verse thus alludes to the factor that causes Messiah to be "destitute", by saying “vecha” meaning, “because of you”; for indeed, it is our sins that have prolonged the duration of our exile. By saying ‘you shall not harden your heart or close your hand’, Hashem is instructing every Jewish person not to harden his heart against Messiah;… for Messiah’s arrival will occur only by means of the good deeds performed by people, and particularly through… charity, as it is written in regard to Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:14), ‘You shall be established through charity.’

Furthermore, we find the Messiah likened to a pauper in the Books of the Prophets, as in Isaiah 53:1-5: “Formerly he grew like a sapling or like a root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him. He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despised, and we had no regard for him. But in truth, it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried – but we had regarded him as diseased, stricken by God, and afflicted! He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds, we were healed.

And, again in Isaiah 53:10-12: “Hashem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt, he would see offspring and live long days and the desire of Hashem would succeed in his hand. From his very own toil he will see and be satisfied. With his knowledge, My servant, the righteous one, will make multitudes righteous; it is their iniquities that he will carry. Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils – in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.

We recognize Yeshua as the Messiah. He did not come as a conquering King as many expected, but rather as a destitute one, who was afflicted and gladly bore his affliction for the sake of Hashem. The destitute state in which Yeshua came was reflective of the physical and spiritual conditions of the people… the hardened hearts they bore at that time. The state of his arrival was a result of the state of affairs of the nation at that time. Yes, it was a very low and dark time in the history of the nation of Israel. However, the people had lost sight of the truth that Hashem revealed to their forefathers through Moses. If they did not have the ability to identify with the destitute ones in their midst, how could they connect with the heart of Hashem? How could they see the Messiah – His Chosen One – in their midst? What are we to learn from all of this? It is through our actions and deeds – especially towards the destitute, that we reveal our desire to bring the Messiah… to bring complete redemption and rectification.

However, we know that the Messiah will return… that Yeshua will return, but next time, as King Messiah! How do we bring King Messiah? By listening to and observing the Torah, by cleaving to Hashem with all of our beings, by opening our hearts and extending our hands toward the destitute ones – those that Hashem has his loving eye on. Based on our actions and our deeds, we have the ability of bringing the Messiah!

This is an important lesson for all of us to take to heart. We need to ask ourselves the question: Do we truly care about the destitute? Those amongst us whom we can often refrain from looking at, or not give a second glance. But there are those of us that have the capacity and the resources to lend a helping hand… to tithe, to open, to grant, to give, to extend our hands toward the destitute. Remember, what we have in this world does not belong to us, but to Hashem.

In Matthew 25:31-40, Yeshua was speaking to his disciples about the coming judgment: “It will be that when the son of man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, he will sit on the throne of his glory. All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. He will stand the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. Then the king will say to those standing on his right: ‘Come, those who are blessed of my Father, and possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was traveling, and you took me in; naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ The righteous will answer and say, ‘Our master, when did we see you hungry and sustain you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you traveling and take you in, or naked and cover you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the king will answer and say to them: ‘Amen, I say to you, what you have done for one of these young brothers of mine, you have done for me.’

The day is coming when the Messiah will return, coming on the clouds and in glory! May we be reminded that we have the ability to hasten his return. All we have to do is genuinely embrace charity towards those that are destitute. May we surely listen to and surely observe the ways of Hashem brought forth through His Torah. May we fix our eyes on and see our Master Yeshua and replicate his life and all that he taught as it was all in accordance with the Torah. May we surely destroy and surely smite those elements in our lives that steer us away from Hashem. May we surely tithe to our teachers of the Torah, and surely open, surely grant, surely give, and surely extend our hands towards the destitute ones among us, as well as those who do work on behalf of them. May we always remember that all we have in this world only comes from Hashem. May we use all that we have in this world for His Kingdom, His Glory and His Honour.


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