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This Week in Torah

RE’EH 5774 (27 Menahem Av 5774/ August 23-24, 2014)

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 & Isaiah 54:11-55:5

A Job Never Done

This Shabbat we will announce the coming new month of Elul whose Rosh Hodesh will be observed on August 26 and 27.   Biblically, Elul is the sixth month but, since Rosh HaShannah follows it, we think of Elul as the last moon of the year and the time to begin our contemplation of how we might work to make the world a better place in the year ahead. 

Given the present increase of violence from Mosul, through the Middle East and all the way to Missouri, we would not be starting, even a moment, too soon.  How can we stem the afflicting tempest blowing across the planet, when even the efforts of powerful world leaders cannot keep fear and terror at bay? The answer is twofold. 

One, we believe in the infinite value of each life.  This concept is not limited to acts of pekuach nefesh (saving a life in imminent danger); more importantly, it means that each life can be conducted and each person can, acting as we are commanded, change history. Even if the efforts of an individual appear dissolved in a vast universe, they are still cosmically significant.  Of course, working in concert with others is usually most effective.  The second comes from Avot 2:16 which, paraphrased, says just because you can’t finish a job, does not mean that you are ‘off the hook’ – you must do something.  But what?

There really is evil in the world and we know that the ‘incubator’ that allows evil to spread and recruit followers, is the deadly combination of economic and political deprivation.  Where there is general contentment, evil finds few followers, social entropy can be reversed and Yeshuv Ha-Olam (the advancement of civilization) can take place.

Our Torah portion expresses concern about and instructs us regarding how each of the People of Israel, whether in our own, or any other land, is required to help lift up those who are impoverished of provender and power.  

Raibal points to an apparent contradiction in this week’s parashah.  Devarim 15:4 clearly states, “There shall be no poor among you,” yet verse 7 raises a doubt saying: “If there is a poor man… in your gates.”   By verse 11 we learn: “the poor shall never cease… therefore I command you… open your hand wide.”   He says that the text’s progression from the ideal to the actual is to teach us that the process of eliminating economic and political privation is an on-going struggle.  Although it may end only in a Messianic Age, nevertheless we continue working toward the day when everyone, everywhere, will eat, be satisfied and bless God.

Will it come a little closer next year?  That’s up to us!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Steve Denker

This week’s TEE Mail Torah message has also been distributed worldwide on behalf of the Israel Religious Action Center.