There will be no needy among you – for God will bless you in the land that God is giving you… (Deuteronomy 15:4)
There will never cease to be needy ones in your land… (Deuteronomy 15:11)
Here, in the course of just a few verses in this week’s Torah Portion R’eih, the Children of Israel are promised that there will never be poor among them… and that there will always be poor among them. Critics and commentators of the Torah have forever challenged the obvious contradiction between these two promises by God. The distance between this perfect world of a land without poverty or hunger and the seemingly hopeless future where there will always be needy in our world, seems all but impossible to bridge.
But the bridge from wealth to want resides right here within the text, just beyond the tiny dots at the end of each of these seemingly contradictory Torah verses. When you read the entire text, from the promise of prosperity to the persistence of poverty, a larger context emerges.
The promise, “there will be no needy…” is followed by a call to righteousness, “if only you heed your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day.” That is to say, “there will be no needy if you build the world of justice and righteousness which I have declared for you in this Torah.”
And the recognition that “there will never cease to be needy” is followed by “which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”
The bridge from wealth to want, from prosperity to poverty, God places that destiny directly in our hands.