This week, in Parasha Re’eh, God describes many mitzvot the Children of Israel are to perform when they reach the Land of Israel: To destroy the places of idol worship in Israel, to worship only at the places God shall choose for the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) and bring the offerings there, to not eat the blood of animals (for it is the animal’s soul), to avoid the words of false prophets, to ignore people who encourage idol worship and to punish them and to eat only kosher animals. God also commanded us to give money for the support of the Levites, converts, widows and orphans; these people generally did not have land on which to make a living.
This last mitzvah to help those without the things needed to enjoy life is given twice. God commands that, even during the shmita (seventh) year when debts will be canceled: “If there shall be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that the Lord, your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7)
Near the end of the parasha, God commands that during the festival of Shavuot: “You shall rejoice before the Lord, your God – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite who is in your cities, the proselyte [someone who converts to Judaism], the orphan and the widow who are among you.” (Deuteronomy 16:11) Rejoicing in this sense means you have to have good food and clothing to be happy.
Not only is the mitzvah of taking care of those in need important enough to mention twice, it is related to the Land that God gave us. Each is tied to the other. We inherit the Land and therefore we are responsible to use it to care for those who do not have the basics of life.
The Hebrew word we usually use for “charity,” tzedakah, really means “justice”. God, in his love for the Children of Israel, has given us a good Land. It is fair – or just – that we use his gift not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others who need help. In this way we pass along the gift God has given us.
We can observe this mitzvah every day, by sharing what we have with those in need. This mitzvah is not limited to money. If our family has extra food or clothing or toys, we can share those. We all have extra time, and perhaps special talents, we can donate to help other people.
This Shabbat, think about some things you have that you can share next week with people who need your help.