This week’s reading, Parshat Re’eh, includes the laws of kashrut and how to observe the three harvest festivals: Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot. I will be focusing on another theme from the reading, however: tithing. Tithing is when farmers take 10 percent of their yield and donate it to the priests and the poor. This is a version of tzedaka. Tzedaka comes from the root tzedek, which means righteousness. In this case, the right thing to do is to help people in need.
Tzedaka comes from the root tzedek, which means righteousness. In this case, the right thing to do is to help people in need.
The Torah portion expands on the idea of tzedaka: “If … there is a needy person among you … do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand. … Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return, the Lord your G-d will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: Open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”
This past year, our congregation, Chevrei Tzedek, volunteered at an urban farm in and around Clifton Park called Real Food Farm. It is located in a challenged part of Baltimore on lots that used to be old abandoned houses. The farm sells the food they grow in food deserts to people who normally could not afford to purchase fresh food at a reasonable cost. This farm is a part of a growing movement to educate and provide access to healthy and affordable food for the disadvantaged.
I spent time at the farm harvesting, painting, mulching, planting and weeding. During the hot summer days, I thought more about how I could drive just miles from my house and be in a totally different environment with people of different races and different socioeconomic backgrounds. We, the Jewish community, need to step up for neighborhoods that are so close to us and still need help. The Torah is trying to remind us that we shouldn’t take our food for granted.