Parshat Ki Tetzeh
Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
Our weekly Torah portion Ki Tetzeh reminds us of our obligations to 3 groups of people; the stranger, the orphan and the widow. These three classifications represent those without power and access in ancient society. The stranger was one who lived among the Israelites but wasn’t an Israelite him or herself. The orphan and widow were not attached to a stronger household and often didn’t have the financial means of self-support.
And so our Torah portion reminds us several times to make sure that these groups are taken care of. “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. (Deut. 24:17).” “When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it: it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow – in order that Adonai your God may bless you in all your undertakings. (Deut. 24:19).” “ When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. (Deut. 24:20).” “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deut. 24:21).”
Each of these reminds us to leave something for the poor. For the least of society. The Israelite majority has a collective responsibility to take care of those in the community that do not have the means to sustain themselves even if they are not a part of the people. Our caring doesn’t mean just to Jews. But to the stranger in our midst. We have to be concerned with all who live among us. Not just to our own kind. This is instructive especially in these days and times when we live in such a diverse society and world. The Torah recognizes that the web and social concern must extend beyond one’s own clan or tribe! And this is true in our day as well.
These verses also remind us that we have a responsibility to the poor in our midst to ensure their well being. Coupled with other verses in the Torah that specifically teach us to leave the corners of our field for the poor and specifically call upon us feed the hungry in our midst we gather a picture of sharing our bounty with those who do not have in society.
But these verses say more than simply our obligation to the stranger, and orphan and widow.
It says something to each of us.
It teaches us not to be so greedy. We should learn not to want and desire every last sheaf of wheat, or strewn olives. We should learn not to squeeze out every ounce of profit from our goods.
That might seem easy to say when times are good and there is a lot to go around.
But what about in difficult economic times like now? Margins are so thin. State budgets, city budgets and personal budgets are cut to bare bones. There is little left over for anyone.
The Torah and our teachings are still clear. We must still remember that what we have is not ours alone but it is lent to us by God. Therefore we have an obligation to share some of it with others who do not have. Even in difficult economic times. Tzedakah is not a choice but a regular spiritual practice.
In these days leading up to the High Holy Days we are to begin the process of repentance/teshuvah and preparing to cleanse ourselves of the errors and sins that have accumulated since last year. Giving Tzedakah is one of the processes for this cleansing and purifying of our souls. So get to it. Help take care of those in our world who don’t have and remember all that we do have is because of God’s blessing in our lives.