Redeeming your miles

  • ParshaRabbiWidmonte
Three thousand two hundred and eighty nine years ago, in this week’s Torah portion, the world’s longest droshah ended.
by RABBI RAMON WIDMONTE | Sep 07, 2017

The whole book of D’varim (Deuteronomy) is a record of three speeches which Moshe gave over the last five weeks of his life; and the central and largest of the speeches ends in this week’s portion.

So, after 41 years of leading Jews, 41 years of trying to get a stiff-necked bunch of individualists to walk the straight and narrow, how does Moshe sign off? He says:

“When you have finished taking all the tithes of your grain for the third year, which is the special tithe year, you must give them to the Levite, and to the foreigner, orphan and widow, so that they will eat their fill in your settlements.

“You must then make the following declaration before Hashem your G-d, 'I have removed all the sacred portions from my house. I have given the appropriate ones to the Levite and to the orphan and widow, following all the commandments You prescribed to us… Look down from Your holy habitation in heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You have given us, the land flowing with milk and honey that You swore to our fathers'.”

At the end of every third and sixth year in a seven-year cycle, the Jewish people must set aside a 10th of their crop not for their own consumption, but for the landless, the vulnerable and the convert.

And then a Jew must appear at the Temple and declare that every scrap of G-d’s blessing has been used in the right way - some of it has been used in the service of G-d at the Temple and to the Levi’im and Kohanim; and some of it has been used for those less fortunate.

It is an exquisite example of the Torah’s moral code in several ways.

Firstly, the Torah is not satisfied with people who are “good people” only, but requires both a relationship with G-d and a broad ethical concern. It is not an either-or but a “both”.

Secondly, the Torah creates a clear and measured structure for philanthropy. One might feel that this is an artificial imposition and a recipe for fake care. But this is not the case; in this structure is true genius.

Just take a look at all the meshuganas out there (myself included), who are virtual slaves to their Vitality points - have they taken 5 000 or 10 000 steps? Has their heart rate reached the right level?

We are very happy to run our lives by metrics in such critical areas as wellness and health and are proud to publish these numbers on a Facebook page. But when it comes to spirituality, we often deride the same approach.

The Torah is this practical - Hashem knows us better than ourselves (and better than the folks at Vitality - sorry guys). If there is no structure, no metric, then spirituality too can become a vague, imagined gesture.

May we all be blessed with a wonderful, measurable, hands-on new year.


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