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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

08/10/2023 05:00:11 PM


Rabbi Chelsea Feuchs

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Re'eh, takes us on quite a journey through a wide range of topics. It opens by instructing the Israelites to utterly destroy the symbols worshipped by other nations and violently root out idolatry in their midst. Given that these other religions were said to endorse child sacrifice and self-harm, perhaps we can understand some of the anxiety and anger they caused the biblical author. Still, when Re'eh moves on to more relatable topics like the laws of keeping kosher and observing the three pilgrimage holidays—Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot—we as modern readers find it far more palatable. Then it goes on to instruct the Israelites to issue a remission of debts every seven years, and a parashah that started off as extreme and reactionary becomes downright progressive! 

While I am always tempted to expound upon the remission of debts because it has such clear political, economic, and social implications for our time, I want to share something that I spotted for the first time rereading Re'eh this week. When describing the feast that the Israelites are supposed to have when they bring their tithings to God, it says, "The Levite, who has no hereditary portion as you have, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your settlements shall come and eat their fill, so that Adonai your God may bless you in all the enterprises you undertake" (Deuteronomy 14:29). A similar instruction is repeated in 16:11 concerning the celebration of Shavuot.

The stranger, orphan, and widow are often grouped together in the Torah to represent the most vulnerable people in society, but adding in the Levite is far less common. The Levites did not possess land because they spent their time serving God instead of raising crops or cattle; they were priests and as such had high religious and social status. So why put them in the same list as others who lack power and influence? Because a need is a need is a need. An empty stomach needs to be filled, the landless need produce to sustain themselves, and those without offerings to give need to be invited to celebrate in the homes of others. There is no room for preferential treatment, for helping out only those with connections and influence. This lesson continues to speak to us today, reminding us that we have a responsibility to answer the call of all those in need without preference or judgment. May we work toward a future in which every person has the sustenance, security, and community they need, viewing ourselves as equally worthy and valued every step of the way. 

Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784