Parashat Re'eh

Restoring Wealth And Dignity

When a member of our community becomes poor we must restore his/her dignity as well as money.

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Maimonides, Laws of Gifts To the Poor

A pauper who owns a home and household utensils, even utensils of gold and silver, is not obliged to sell his home and utensils [in order to receive Tzedakah]. It is forbidden to pressure a pauper or to raise one's voice at him because his heart will break. One who gives less than a Prutah (coin of little value) is not credited with having given anything. One who gives Tzedakah rudely loses all merit even if one gave one-thousand gold pieces.

Concluding Observations

One might conclude that "that which is lacking" is not to be measured in material terms at all. Sustaining a pauper is important as a means of restoring that which is really lacking: his (or her) dignity and sense of self-worth. Deprived of possessions, a person experiences a loss of dignity and a diminution of self; restored to them, his dignity is returned. As understood by Maimonides and by the rabbis of the Talmud, our parashah tells us to recognize the loss of dignity and sense of self that accompanies material depravation and commands us to act and to restore "that is lacking." The Jewish society envisioned by the Torah is a society in which all its inhabitants are allowed lives of dignity and value and in which each member cares for the dignity of all others.

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Rabbi Howard Alpert is the Executive Director of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.