by Amy Skopp Cooper
After spending 6 wonderful weeks at Ramah Galim, I headed to Jerusalem to spend the week with Ramah Seminar participants and children and staff of the Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem. It is uncommonly hot, even for summer, yet I feel a distinct pride and joy in being here. As I always do when I am in Israel, I sense a bond to people I pass on the street and do not even know personally. We are bound together by a loyalty to the Land of Israel, to the People of Israel, and to the tradition that lies at the foundation of the Jewish way of life.
That bond between strangers is not a new concept. In Parashat Re’eh (Chapter 15), the Torah is concerned with ensuring that “there not emerge in Israel a class of people who are not able to lift themselves out of poverty” (Etz Hayim Humash page 1,076). Such a condition would not only be unfair to poor people, but it would also potentially become a dangerous breeding ground for lawlessness and violence.
Perhaps most importantly, ignoring the poor would be a desecration of G-d’s creation, as all human beings are created in G-d’s image. Therefore, our Parasha presents numerous laws that address the needs of the poor. In Chapter 15, Verse 7 we read: “do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy neighbor…lend him sufficient for what he needs.” In verse 10, we read: “Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return G-d will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.”
The Torah presumes that we are not friends with the poor people we encounter. We don’t know them personally, have never met them before, and in all likelihood, our paths will not cross very often. Still, we have an obligation to the poor because we are linked to them. We share space, and we share a connection to the traditions of Judaism and to the Land of Israel.
Returning to Chapter 15, Verse 10 we read that “…G-d will bless you in all your efforts and undertakings.” How exactly will G-d bless us when we reach out to the poor? Not with tangible rewards or with any particular reward. Instead, we will gain the satisfaction that we did the right thing for those who are suffering and in need, those who are vulnerable and cannot help themselves easily. We will be blessed with the feeling that we are linked to Am Yisrael, to the People of Israel, whether they are our relatives or are strangers to us. This is, of course, true for all of humanity, not just the Jewish family. We are all connected to one another, and the Torah reminds us that it is a blessing to strengthen those in need.
Thank you for welcoming and connecting me to the Galim community this summer.
Amy Skopp Cooper is the National Ramah Associate Director and former long term Director of Ramah Nyack. Amy spent the summer at Ramah Galim as a visiting Camp Director.