Did you know that 17.4% of people living in Washington DC are living below the poverty line? That equals about 111,000 people, and doesn’t event include the folks that are technically above the poverty line, but still regularly struggle to take care of themselves and their families.
We can all agree that no one should have to live this way; our Torah agrees. In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat R’eih, the Torah clearly states: “There shall be no needy among you”.
God makes this statement as a promise to keep if the Israelites follow all of the commandments in the Promised Land. However, this unconditional statement from God is later contrasted in the portion with a much more realistic, pragmatic statement about poverty:
“For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11
While we start exploring poverty so aspirationally in this portion, this last statement brings us back to reality. It’s certainly not impossible to eliminate poverty in DC, but it is really hard to imagine. I’m reminded of this reality every time I talk with someone asking for a little bit of money to get something to eat or to get on the Metro. Although I provide what I can, I’m always left feeling like there’s more work to be done.
So, what can we do to work toward this ideal of living in a place without poverty? While we’ll need bigger structural changes, we can start with our Torah.
Approach someone struggling with homelessness with the kindness and compassion they deserve as a human being. Shake their hand, ask them their name, provide them assistance, and wish them well. If we each start to open our hands and hearts to those most vulnerable, we can build a better city, country, and world for all of us.
About the Author: Evan Traylor, originally from Oklahoma City, currently works at the Union for Reform Judaism and is an aspiring rabbi. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 studying political science and Jewish studies. Evan loves reading, traveling, exploring DC, and cheering on the KU Jayhawks.
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