Torah Portion: Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
Commentary by: Kelsey Bryant
When we think about what Torah-keeping means, we may have the tendency to specify only Sabbath, festivals, kosher, and whatever else sets us apart from mainstream Christianity. But readings like Parshat Re’eh quickly remind us that a huge part of keeping the Torah is about loving people.
In Deuteronomy 15:7-18, Yahweh gives His people unambiguous instructions to take care of the poor. “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (verses 7-8, NASB).
Yeshua, the living Torah, walked and talked this compassion. He was always reaching out to the sick, hungry, outcast, poverty-stricken Israelites (Matthew 9:12-13, 35-38; 15:30-32; Luke 14:2-4, to name a few examples), and teaching His followers to do the same (Luke 12:33-34; 14:13-14; Romans 15:26-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, et cetera). He is truly our example – He poured out His whole life for His sick, hungry, outcast creation.
Particularly connected to Deuteronomy 15, Yeshua taught in Luke 6:34-35, “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:34-35, NASB). Deuteronomy 15 teaches that even when they face the Shemittah year when all debts will be canceled, the Israelites shouldn’t let that stop them from lending to a needy brother. Yeshua fulfilled this commandment when He gave us life, then canceled our debt. We could never pay Him back what He “lent” us, and He doesn’t make us.
Yeshua’s love for people is overwhelming, and in the Torah, Yahweh tells us to have the same heart…and that means demonstration. We could never be selfless enough to completely obey the mandate, but fortunately with the New Covenant we have the help of the Holy Spirit and the Torah written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Since we do, it should be so much easier to walk in love and generosity. It should become natural for us to do things like giving of our time and money.
Like all the commandments that are not specific to a certain type of person, this one applies to everyone. Not just those who operate a homeless shelter or feel that it’s their calling. Everyone who is capable of giving to the poor is commanded to do so; those who don’t are said to be base in their thinking (Deuteronomy 15:9, Hebrew word beliyaal). Yeshua agrees. In His parable about the sheep and the goats, those who enter the Kingdom, the sheep, are the ones who fed the hungry, helped the sick, and took care of the poor. Those kept out are the ones who didn’t bother.
Charity is giving to the needy, but it’s not just money. Hands-on work is highly valuable, often even more so. It can also be more difficult to donate – we can easily think the same thing about giving time as we do about giving money. But giving of our time and physically becoming involved is a better demonstration of the love of God that fills us; it also makes a bigger impact on ourselves, making us more loving, generous, and aware. Yahweh’s promise in Deuteronomy 15:10 is completely true: “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” (NASB, emphasis mine). Also pay attention to the loving attitude we’re supposed to have…it’s like what 1 Corinthians 13:3 says: if we give away all our possessions to feed the poor, but don’t have love, we are not profited at all.
The Torah often speaks about lending. One of the highest forms of giving is helping someone make a living so they don’t need gifts anymore. It preserves the dignity of the individual, who needs uplifting just as much, if not more, than he needs money. When we give to others, we should try to consider what they really need.
If you don’t have money, you may have time. Find a need and fill it. Donate your talents to a worthy cause. As God’s people – especially if we know the Torah – we should be the most giving, loving, charitable people in existence.
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14, NASB)