Opening our Hands, Opening our Hearts
כִּֽי־פָתֹ֧חַ תִּפְתַּ֛ח אֶת־יָדְךָ֖ ל֑וֹ וְהַעֲבֵט֙ תַּעֲבִיטֶ֔נּוּ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ
Rather, you must surely open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.
There are times that I absolutely love the lessons found in the Torah. There are archaic and maddening things, for sure, but sometimes the Torah is funny, practical or shows an understanding of human nature in clear and deep ways.
In parshat Re’eh (starting in Devarim 15:4), the Torah describes how rich the people of Israel are going to be, how there will be no poor people, and how we will dominate all other nations with our wealth. The idea is that if we follow God’s laws, all will be perfect and everyone will have everything they want and need.
But the Torah points out that we aren’t all rich. The whole discussion about how awesome our rich lives will be seems just like a wink, wink, as the Torah continues:
If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must surely open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.
The Torah is saying, “anything I was saying before about how everyone is going to be rich, well, that’s not completely true, there will actually be some poor people and you have to do something about it.”
Why does the Torah do this? My best guess is that promising the good life for following the rules is a good way to get some people to follow the rules. However, at the same time, the Torah knows that poor people are still going to exist and will need help.
What I really love about this passage is how it plays with the words heart and hand. The Torah says to not harden your heart. Who does this remind you of? Pharoah. Pharoah hardened his heart and didn’t let Israel go. Look what happened to him.
The visual of a closed and open hand is important here. I can see someone grasping their money and refusing to give to someone in need. The Torah exhorts us not to just open our hand, but rather uses the emphatic “you must surely open your hand.” I picture someone opening their hand and spreading their wealth. It is interesting that the Torah doesn’t require us to open our hearts, just our hands. Perhaps it is assumed that our hands wouldn’t open unless our hearts were already open. Or, maybe it is the practicality of Judaism. As long as you open your hand and give, it doesn’t really matter if your heart is open. Actions are what matter.
Then again, maybe the cause and effect are backwards. Perhaps it is the act of opening our hand and giving that will lead to us opening our hearts. Judaism is about deeds. Perhaps the act of giving helps transform our hearts. I think that is one reason why camp is so powerful. We do Judaism. We experience living Jewish lives. This experience stays with us, influencing our hearts. Shabbat Shalom.