Nitsavim

For this commandment that I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. – Deuteronomy 30:11

As Moses concludes his third farewell to the Israelites, he establishes a pattern that we see in communal gatherings even today. The long Jewish goodbye can take place at the end of any event and extend it considerably. It is an expression of love and the pleasure that we experience in the company others.

Much of what Moses has been telling the Israelites comprises a restatement of the laws that they and their descendants are expected to observe. Now he reassures them that this commandment is not esoteric, abstract, or out of reach. Rather, the mitzvot are and will always be accessible in everyday life.

An example of this comes from a talmudic debate regarding the giving of tzedakah (gifts to the poor):

Rav Huna said: Applicants for food are examined, but not applicants for clothing…[This is] common sense…because the one who [is without clothes] is exposed to contempt, but not the other.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, said: Applicants for clothing are to be examined, but not applicants for food. [This is] common sense…because the one [without food] is actually suffering, but not the other. (Bava Batra 9a)

The Sages and later commentators agreed that it is common practice and sometimes appropriate to evaluate whether someone requesting material assistance is actually in need before giving tzedakah. While they disagree on whether the alleviation of pain or prevention of humiliation comes first, there is no question that the mitzvah of providing materially for people in need encompasses both.

The mitzvah of tzedakah has an especially important place in our lives at this time year. Together with teshuvah (repentance or turning) and tefillah (prayer), it is the means by which we set forth on the path of righteousness for the coming year.

Give generously.

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