Driving home from shul one morning, I was looking forward to a small morning repast on the balcony with my wife, when the car in front of me decided to interrupt my musings by not going through the incredibly short light. I started to lean on the horn to express my displeasure, but my hand was stayed. I noticed a beggar moving away from the driver’s window, with a large grin on his face as he attempted to stuff a closed hand into his pocket. I have seen this beggar numerous times before, occasionally dropping a couple of coins in his hand, if I had small change, but I’ve never seen such joy upon his face as that day.
What was he given? I can only imagine. Maybe it was enough money to feed himself for the day, or maybe more – I’ll never know. What was it that caused his countenance to shine so bright? That too I’ll probably never know, as I have not seen the beggar these last few weeks, though I think of him occasionally as I pass his corner.
As I read this week’s Torah portion (Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, TLV), the beggar’s face was in my mind’s eye once again. “Therefore love the outsider or stranger, for you were outsiders, strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Suddenly, I realized the number of times I had lost the possibility of obeying this command. Then with horror, I realized what more I could have lost. In the closing words of this week’s Besorah (Matthew 25:34-45), the righteous judge proclaimed, “I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”
Earlier in Deuteronomy 10, Moshe described an aspect of what it means to love the outsider or stranger,
He (HaShem) enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, giving him food and clothing.Deuteronomy 10:18
While it is true that the giving of tzedakah or charity should be motivated by our love for others as well as for HaShem as John reminds us
But if someone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth!1 John 3:17-18
Barry Holtz, in his book Finding Our Way: Jewish Texts and the Lives We Lead Today (The Jewish Publication Society, 2005) makes the following observation
The Christian notion of “charity,” for example, is very different from the Jewish concept of tzedakah. Charity evolves from the Latin caritas, meaning an act of love (as in the English “caring”); tzedakah (usually translated as “charity,” thereby missing the point) evolves from the Hebrew word for ”justice.” When we feed the hungry, we do not do it (only) because we want to, (or only) because we feel like it, according to classical Judaism, but because God demands justice. God demands that we do right, even if we don’t feel like it. (p. 147)
Just as HaShem enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, so should we. In Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 there are two ideas juxtaposed with each another. The first idea includes things that have no definite quality or fixed measure – the corners of a field (left unharvested for the poor to glean), the first-fruit offerings brought to the Temple on Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים; the three pilgrimage festivals), the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity. The second includes things that while producing fruit in this world, find their full reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. These are honoring one’s parents, the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity, and making peace between people. The common thread in both is the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity.
From the Torah, throughout the Prophets and the Writings, and in the Apostolic Writings, there are both direct commands to care for the needy and the afflicted, and for widows and orphans as well as examples of such. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua wrote to his community,
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that?James 2:15-16
In other words, if we truly love HaShem and desire to follow our Messiah, then we are responsible for meeting the needs that we are able to meet. Even if it means having to wait at a stoplight a little longer or to dig a little deeper into our pockets or wallets.
In the closing verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3 we read Isaiah’s prophetic utterance to each of us,
Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, you who seek ADONAI. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. For when I called him, he was but one, then I blessed him and multiplied him.Isaiah 51:1-2
The pursuance of justice, among other things, shows care and compassion for others, for those close to us as well as the strangers or outsiders who are brought across our paths. In Pirkei Avot it is written
He (Rabbi Tarfon) would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.Pirkei Avot 2:16
This means that we do not have to meet each and every need of each and every individual or each and every problem. However, we are responsible to meet the needs that we can, whether it be by providing for the needs themselves or being a facilitator to assist in seeing that the need is met. Sometimes being a facilitator requires tangible action on our part, at other times it requires prayer and intercession.
ADONAI Tzav’ot, allow each of us another opportunity to show tangible love for the outsider, the stranger, and in doing so, let us show our love and devotion to You.