As an 11-year-old camper attending Camp Ramah in The Berkshires in the early 1980’s, I first leyned five verses – Deuteronomy 15: 7-11, in this week’s parsha, Re’eh, – that have grown to become among my favorites in the entire Torah.
This selection instructs us how to behave when encountering one who is dealing with financial hardship and twice (verses 8 and 11) we’re told “Patoch tiftach et yadecha” (“Open, open, your hand”) to the one in need.
But while this selection is noble and heartwarming, it’s hardly breaking news. After all, we’ve already been instructed and reminded to care for the poor in our midst several times in Exodus and Leviticus. So what makes this selection so endearing?
Perhaps the real beauty in these verses is not what they say, but how they say it. The idea of not just reaching out but doing so with a positive, upbeat attitude (verse 10) speaks to those of us who have ever felt in need of support, financial or otherwise.
Yes, the pshat (literal reading) of these verses is clearly talking about one in dire financial straits, but the message resonates strongly with those who have ever experienced emotional distress as well. Like financial support, emotional support can be very difficult to ask for, even when it’s badly needed, and even when personal well-being is at stake.
Consider the fact that the opening verse of this week’s Haftorah, Isaiah 54:11, begins “Aniyah, soarrah lo ruchama” (Oh tortured, tossed soul that is beyond comfort). The prophet then goes on to describe how God will be her comforter and endow her with beauty.
Now going back to the selection from Deuteronomy 15, we are told that if we reach out to the needy, God will in turn reward us with blessings (verse 10). There’s a parallel here between the parsha and Haftarah: both speak of the blessings that come when need is answered. The connection signals that we can interpret that need as financial or emotional.
If so, then the mitzvah of reaching out to people could almost be viewed as a quid-pro-quo or “Midah K’neged Midah.” If we proactively reach out to those in need of our support (both financial and emotional), God will then proactively reach out to us in our critical moments.
There are more people in our communities in need of emotional support than we will ever know. Unfortunately, many of them will never feel comfortable enough to ask for help, even if they should. By training ourselves to be extra alert and proactive, we can change, and perhaps even save, lives.
Someday we may find ourselves in that very same state of need and hoping that someone else can be the positive force that “opens, opens” themselves to us.
May we all be worthy of the blessings promised in Deuteronomy and the beauty envisioned by Isaiah. Chazak V’Nitachzek!
Efrem Epstein is the founder of Elijah’s Journey (www.elijahsjourney.net), an organization focused on suicide awareness/prevention initiatives in the Jewish community. The idea for Elijah’s Journey was conceived during The 2009 World Suicide Prevention Day Program at The UN after witnessing presentations of targeted suicide awareness/prevention efforts designed for other demographics and ethnic groups. For over 21 years (since Shavuot 1992) Efrem has been studying Perek Yomi, averaging a chapter of Tanach learning each day. Efrem credits Perek Yomi for inspiring the backbone of many of Elijah’s Journey’s text studies.