We are slowly working our way to the end of Deuteronomy and the end of summer. Unlike the past few weeks, no major events – rather, a list of laws, as the Torah heads towards its conclusion.
In the Jewish calendar, in fact, we seem to be running out the clock. Even the drama Tisha B’Av has passed us by. August is the month for counting days until — until the end of vacation, until the end of camp, until the end of the summer. And in this portion, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17), Moses is counting. Counting the days until his death. Counting the moments he has left, parceling out the remaining minutes in his collective pep talk. Not much time left for the old man.
He’s hurrying now, emphasizing all the laws he wants to repeat, the laws he forgot to remember and just remembered he forgot. Here’s the appropriate places for worship. Oh and don’t forget the kosher laws. Hey did I tell you when the big holidays happen? And also here’s what you do when a false prophet tries to tempt you. And yet, when Moses gets to a certain set of laws, sublime and eternal, the laws about helping the poor, he slows down.
Moses tells his people that they are never to close their hands to the poor. Rather, Moses commands his people to open their hands (15:7) In fact, this is reiterated over and over in the next four verses – open your hands and your hearts – let your feelings and actions connect with each other. We have to worry not just about actions, but also our thoughts.
Today’s false prophets of greed and contempt claim that the suffering of the poor is a moral failure — but not a moral failure of a society that refuses to share its inconceivable wealth. Rather, they place the blame for the suffering of the poor at the feet of the poor themselves, blaming them for the crime of being poor in the United States. No wonder Moses takes his time discussing the sins of false assistance. Moses sees the danger when wealth is idolized, when hoarding wealth is considered a sacrament.
With our portion this week, we enter the month of Elul. The month of acknowledgement. The month of reconciliation. The month of judgment. We who have little merit don’t dare count on miracles to save us. Instead, we are wise to heed the words of Moses – Patoach tiftach – May we openly open. May we open ourselves up, open wide, to the possibility of living in a holy and ethical land, one integrating personal need and private labor with the public good. And as we do so, may it be an opening to the gates of redemption of our land, our hearts, and our souls.