‘We must hear their cry and respond with open hearts’

By Rabbi Ari Kaiman

By Rabbi Ari Kaiman

The word “today” is mentioned a total of eight times in Parashat Re’eh. This is how that parasha opens,

“See, today I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you today; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you today and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.”

The word today breaks through the third wall of the text and calls us to action in every generation. The action we are called to in this parasha is the fulfillment of our unique identity through God’s people. We are supposed to be strong in who we are, and know who we are not. Some mitzvot, like not eating certain foods, help remind us of our unique identity and live proudly as Jews. We have a responsibility today to understand what it means to live uniquely as Jews. 

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Other mitzvot speak to our responsibility to those who are in our midst. “If there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy brother. You must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs…. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt.” (Deuteronomy, 15:7-9)

Today, in our neighborhood, in our midst, many who are needy are crying out to the Lord. Many are crying against the government that represents us. If we do not hear their call and respond, we are implicit in our guilt. If we harden our hearts to the stranger, to the widow and orphan, to those who are enslaved by cycles of poor education and poverty, than we fail to hear God’s call to us today. 

Today, as the eyes of the world look to St. Louis and ask the question, “What are they crying about?” We must hear their cry and respond with open hearts. That is the call we are hearing today.

This moment will pass, and the world’s attention will turn elsewhere, but the cries will not cease. May we be blessed with receptive ears and open hearts to hear and respond God’s call to us today.  May we be partners in bringing about a day that justice for all is our reality rather than our dream. May we see the fulfillment of the ideal God calls to us in our parasha, “Efes ki lo y’hiyeh b’cha evyon” “There shall be no needy among you.” (Deut. 15.4)

Ari Kaiman is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Amoona.