Here it is, the last Shabbat before the Creation of the World. It’s been a while since we were on our weekly Torah check-in, so before we head for celestial tohu v’vohu (chaos) to match the tohu v’vohu here on earth, a couple of verses from this week’s reading caught my eye.
In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 14:22, we read about setting aside tithes, grains, wine, oil, herds, etc and where we are supposed to offer them. But in v 24 we read, “Should the distance be too great for you, should you be unable to transport them, because the place where Adonai your Gd has chosen…is far from you, you may convert them into money”, take the cash to the same place, and spend it. Buy something new, have a good meal with good wine, and enjoy your vacation.
I love how Torah gets real. I love how Torah presents a plan B, when you just live too far away to shlep all that stuff, you can contribute to the community in other ways. Supporting our institutions, our businesses, ourselves in fact, is also good.
There’s another verse that acknowledges the real world: Deut 15:11. In this section, we read about the 7th year (shmita) and the remission of debts. But the Torah mentions one “what if” and another dose of reality. We read of the precautions against taking advantage of the needy, because although we read, “There shall be no needy among you” (v. 4) we also read, “For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you [to] open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” (v 11) How do we reconcile what seems to be a contradiction?
Once again, Torah gives us a Plan B in light of the reality of the world. We can have “no needy” as a goal, but the reality is there will always be needy, and so we have to know how to treat the vulnerable in our midst, to establish the just and righteous society that is our ultimate work on earth, to make order from the chaos.
We need a lot of Plan Bs today…C, D, E. Torah reminds us that we will encounter obstacles to the ideal, but our alternative plans have to keep our ideal society in mind.