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The final section of Parasha Re’eh describes the responsibility Jews had to congregate in Jerusalem on the three festivals and to give donations to the Temple: “everyone shall give as he/she is able, according to the blessing that Adonai your God has bestowed upon you” (16:17).
Although the specific topic is donations to the Temple, I often think about this quote “everyone shall give as he/she is able” in relation to tzedakah in general.
I think that one of the most challenging mitzvot to uphold is tzedakah. I always struggle with how much tzedakah to give and to whom I am required to give. The sheer amount of need in the world is overwhelming. I often feel that my dollar/shekel/pound won’t help. I often feel that my dollar is not going to mean the difference between that person getting off the streets and staying homeless.
This sense of despair is foreseen in the preceding chapter in the Torah, where we are taught “For there will never cease to be needy people in your land, which is why I command you; open your hand to the poor and needy” (15:7-8).
The way this mitzvah is phrased acknowledges the feeling of futility that we must overcome when giving tzedakah. We must fight the voice inside ourselves that says, “If there will always be poverty, why should I try to stem it? I am powerless. I cannot fix this problem in a lasting way.” We are challenged by God to force ourselves to give in defiance of the fact that we will never be able to end poverty once and for all.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Paul Arberman
August 13, 2015