Re’eh ~ Giving Is Its Own Punishment?
This Torah portion is the longest in Deuteronomy. And it is full of all manner of things. Re’eh means “see” and as with so many Torah portions it is the first word that is the title.
See, I set before you good and evil. The good is the doing of good deeds and obeying the “rules”. We Jews believe that giving rewards the giver more than the recipient. But here is where I get confused, there are awful punishments in this portion, particularly the pinning of a person to a wall or door with an awl through the ear. We are admonished here to remember that we once were slaves but the treatment of servants here is not wonderful.
This portion contains the rules of kashrut, kosher eating. It also contains the rules for Passover and Sukkot. So needless to say it is a jam packed parsha. But for me, it is the core concept of giving and remembrance are the most important.
According to Maimonides the second to the highest level of “charity” is anonymous giving to anonymous recipients; the highest being helping someone to make their way through employment, loans and other forms of assistance. So remembering we once were slaves, extending a hand of help to pull others out of poverty, oppression and enslavement should be one of the highest forms of help. But many American Jews are on the immigration bandwagon, demanding the deportation of honest working people, the breakup of families. Do we have a need for immigration reform? Sure we do. But aren’t we the ultimate immigrants, from leaving Egypt to the formation of Israel we have wandered the earth unwanted, turned away?
So shouldn’t our remembrance, as in our repeating the story of our exodus at Passover, extend to giving? Shouldn’t memory require action? Keeping the memory of wrong alive is only meaningful if we ensure that wrong, that evil, does not flourish. Should we not treat others as we would have wished to be treated? Isn’t that what we learned in kindergarten?
We are further obligated to action by everything in our tradition. Everything, we are taught, especially in Reform Judaism, s about social action, about tikkun olam, repairing the world. I am grateful that my tradition and belief allows me to interpret Torah as it applies to my life and times and as I personally read it. And so I take from this portion the good and release the confusing and punishing. Doing good should, always, be its own reward.