For the week ending 23 August 2014 / 27 Av 5774

Parshat Re'eh

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe presents to the nation the blessing of a spiritually oriented life, and the curse of becoming disconnected from Hashem. When the nation enters Eretz Yisrael they must burn down any trees that had been used for idol-worship, and destroy all idolatrous statues. Hashem will choose only one place where the Divine Presence will dwell. Offerings may be brought only there; not to a private altar. Moshe repeatedly warns against eating animal blood. In the desert, all meat was slaughtered in the Mishkan, but in Eretz Yisrael meat may be shechted anywhere. Moshe lists the categories of food that may only be eaten in Jerusalem. He warns the nation against copying ways of the other nations. Since the Torah is complete and perfect, nothing may be added or subtracted from it. If a "prophet" tells the people to permanently abandon a Torah law or indulge in idol worship, he is to be put to death. One who entices others to worship idols is to be put to death. A city of idolatry must be razed. It is prohibited to show excessive signs of mourning, such as marking the skin or making a bald spot. Moshe reiterates the classifications of kosher and non-kosher food and the prohibition of cooking meat and milk. Produce of the second tithe must be eaten in Jerusalem, and if the amount is too large to carry, it may be exchanged for money with which food is bought in Jerusalem. In certain years this tithe is given to the poor. Bnei Yisrael are instructed to always be open-hearted, and in the seventh year any loans must be discounted Hashem will bless the person in all ways. A Jewish bondsman is released after six years, and must be sent away with generous provisions. If he refuses to leave, his ear is pierced with an awl at the door post and he remains a bondsman until the Jubilee year. The Parsha ends with a description of the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot.


School For Kindness

"You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting...." (14:22)

In the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven-year shemitah cycle, Jews living in Eretz Yisrael were instructed to separate a tenth of their crops, and bring it to Jerusalem to eat. In the third and sixth years of the cycle, that tenth was given to the poor instead.

One might ask: "Why weren't the landowners required to first share with the poor and only subsequently to enjoy their produce in Jerusalem?"

The Rambam writes that one must give tzedaka charitywith a joyous countenance, and that giving with a disgruntled demeanor negates the mitzvah. It is not enough to do chessed (kindness), one must love chessed.

More than any other positive mitzvah, writes the Rambam, tzedaka is a sign of the essence of a Jew. By commanding us to bring one tenth of our crops to Jerusalem to rejoice there, G-d taught us two vital lessons. One: that our material possessions are a present from G-d and He can dictate how we use that material bounty. Two: that using material wealth in the way prescribed by G-d generates feelings of joy and sanctity.

Once we have internalized these lessons in the first two years of the cycle, we can offer that bounty to the poor in the third year — not perfunctorily, but with a true love of chessed.

  • Source: Rabbi Zev Leff in Shiurei Bina

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