If you ask a Jew what it means to be good, they tend to begin by saying that this is a person who cares about the needs of others.
Such a person might give tzedakah to the poor or help people to cope when they are down on their luck by lending them money without expecting interest.
They will be caring and generous.
Torah many times commands us to do these things, including in Deuteronomy chapter 15 where we are clearly told “if there is a needy person among you … you must open your hand and lend them sufficient for whatever they need.”
Confidently, Deuteronomy 15 verse 4 proclaims “there shall be no needy person among you,” on the assumption that we will be a generous and caring people.
Why then just seven verses later in Deuteronomy 15 verse 11 does the Torah tell us that “there will never cease to be needy people in your land?” Does God not have confidence that we will be caring and generous?
Wherever people form a community there are always going to be members of that community who will need help. We will always need to set up structures so that all can participate in community life equally and to help with basic needs when people are not able to manage them themselves.
These words also mean that no one should be embarrassed to ask their community for help, whether that be urgent welfare needs, help for their children to go to Jewish summer camp or aid to stay a member of the community.
The Torah mandates we help each other and recognise there will be needy people among us and who must be encouraged to ask for help which should be gladly given.
- Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, serves Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue