This week is the third Sabbath of Consolation between Tisha b’Av and Rosh HaShanah. The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah 54.11 though 55.5,[i] and begins with the LORD addressing Israel as “afflicted one, storm-tossed, unconsoled…” which is more than an apt description of Israel under the discipline of ADONAI. However, this is immediately followed with the comforting words of promise, “All your children will be taught by Adonai. Your children will have great shalom” (Isaiah 54.13). The sentiment of this promise echoes the words of the of Eikev’s Haftarah,
But Zion said: “Adonai has forsaken me, Adonai has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing baby or lack compassion for a child of her womb? Even if these forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49.14-15)
Regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, we have the promise from HaShem that He will never forget us, and that in the end our children with have His shalom as a legacy. Then, in this week’s Haftarah, there is a connection to the last two parashot when the LORD tells Israel once again to הַטּ֤וּ אָזְנְכֶם֙ וּלְכ֣וּ אֵלַ֔י שִׁמְע֖וּ וּתְחִ֣י נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם, “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, so that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55.3). Incline your ear and listen to the LORD your God, echoes Moshe’s command שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone,” (Deuteronomy 6.4; cf. 9.1 and 11.13). Listen, to the LORD, pay attention and take heed to His words and live.
The Parasha, Re’eh, found in Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17, begins with Moshe’s reiteration of the blessings and curses which come from hearing and then either doing or not doing the mitzvot of ADONAI. The reading ends with a discussion on the Shmittah, the cancelling of debts at the end of seven-years (15.1-3). Along with the command concerning the shmittah there is a longer treatise concerning the obligation for caring for the poor.
However, there should be no poor among you, for ADONAI will surely bless you in the land Adonai your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess. (15.4)
If there is a poor man among you—any of your brothers within any of your gates in your land that ADONAI your God is giving you—you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. (15.7)
For there will never cease to be poor people in the land. Therefore, I am commanding you, saying, ‘You must surely open your hand to your brother—to your needy and poor in your land.’” (15.11)
It was not just in the prophets that HaShem was concerned about the poor and needy. Three times in this parasha alone, it is emphasized that we are to care for and to open our hands to those in need. Rashi comments on verse four concerning, However, there will be (or there should be) no needy among you, stating “When you perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among others but not among you. If, however, you do not perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among you.”[ii] This understanding coincides with HaShem’s promises to bless Bnei Yisrael as they enter the land of promise walking in obedience to His mitzvot, (Deuteronomy 11.8-17).
Looking briefly at ““For there will never cease to be poor people in the land” (Deuteronomy 15.11), we find that Yeshua seems to have quoted this phrase as it is recorded in both Besorot, Matthew 26.11 and John 12.8, but He adds the phrase “but you do not always have Me,” possibly inferring as the Kohelet suggests “For everything there is a season and a time for every activity under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3.1). But did Yeshua really mean that attention to Him was more important than attention and care for the poor and needy? The Besorah of Mark adds, what I believe, is a qualifying remark.
For you always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want; but you won’t always have Me. (Mark 14.7)
The phrase “and you can do good for them whenever you want” seems to indicate that one is able and permitted to continue to assist those in need, without neglecting service or avodah to Yeshua, much like Yeshua indicated to the Pharisees and scribes in Besorat Matthew when He told them:
Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.” (23.23)
The letter of the law, the mitzvot is only the beginning, the spirit of the mitzvot is what Yeshua encouraged the Pharisees, as well as us today, to recognize and observe. Service to Him includes service to others. And in a very real way, meeting the needs of others is service to Yeshua Himself, so exampled by the parable of the Righteous Judge:
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger and invite You in? Or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And answering, the King will say to them, “Amen, I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25.37-40)
Yes, the poor and needy will always be with us, but as we minister to and meet their needs, we honor and minister to the Lord Himself.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.