Parashat Re’eh

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi, 10 August 2018

Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed on our television screens terrible scenes of devastation through forest fires across the world. Meanwhile, the conflict continues in Syria with siege, hunger and violence and less visibly, there is similar suffering in the Yemen and many other parts of the world. And throughout much of the world there is ongoing poverty, starvation and needless death through easily treatable causes.

Our Sidra is called Re’eh – ‘see’. We see the suffering on our television screens. But we also need to see more. We need to see the scale of the suffering, in so many places. And we need to see the complex causes: amongst them, global warming caused by human activity; natural causes; crippling debt imposed by the wealthy nations of the West; trade rules which mean that the poorest nations are flooded with imports their people cannot afford; mismanagement by corrupt governments; ongoing conflict, often fuelled by Western interests and so much more.

As we see all of this, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel that whatever we do will not make a difference to suffering on such a scale and the situation is so complicated that our interventions are of little use. But above all, we must continue to see individual human beings, people like ourselves with families they love. Our Sidra reminded us: “You shall not harden your heart or close your hand, but you shall generously open your hand to meet your neighbour’s needs.” We can find many reasons for not giving, as our Torah warns us, but we must not let them overwhelm us. Even if we can help just a few individuals, we have an obligation to do so. As the Mishnah teaches, “Whoever saves a single human soul is as if they saved an entire world.”

Our Sidra begins by reminding us: “See, I have set before you today blessing and curse: the blessing if you keep the commandments which the Eternal One your God sets before you this day, and the curse if you do not keep the commandments of the Eternal One.” If we listen to God’s commandments and open our hearts and our hands, then we will bring blessing, not only to others but to ourselves. We have a choice about how we act, and we can chose to respond to those in need.

Our Sidra tells us “There shall be no poor amongst you”. This seems a distant promise. There are so many poor in our world, and the situation seems to be intractable. But our Sidra also tells us that we do have a choice. We can act in ways that help to solve the problem, albeit slowly and with great patience. In the meantime, each of us can make a difference. Even if we help to make one life better, that is worthwhile. If we follow God’s commandments about how we care for the poor and the disadvantaged, if we truly look at the world and chose to act on what we see, then we can create a world where there will be no poor, if not in our lifetime then in our children’s or their children’s. We have been given a choice. Let us choose blessing, so that we and all the children of our world may live.

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