Being Charged to Address the Needs of Others
The Talmud views the centrality of Psalm 145 in Jewish liturgy as something extremely spiritually vibrant.
R. Eleazar b. Avina says: Whoever recites (the psalm beginning with the words) “Praise of David…” (#145) three times daily (twice during Shacharit [the morning prayer], and once before Mincha [the afternoon prayer), is sure to inherit the World to Come. (!)
Among the special qualities of this Psalm, the Talmud singles out v. 16 as constituting a fundamental holy value:
Thou Openest Thy Hand, and Satisfiest every living thing with favor.
Jewish law codifies the importance of this particular verse by calling for specific actions and sensibilities whenever the verse is recited within a prayer context:
Pitchei Teshuvot on Orech Chayim #25
We find customs to touch one’s Tefillin (phylacteries) … when saying “Thou Openest Thy Hand…” …
(By being required to touch one’s Tefillin, our body language is representing to us that not only are we to verbally acknowledge our awareness of this value, but that our minds and hands ought to help make this a reality.)
Aruch HaShulchan, Orech Chayim 51:8
…One should be careful to pay close attention (when reciting Psalm 145), and minimally one is obligated to do so upon reciting the verse, “Thou Openest Thy Hand …;” if one did not have intention regarding at least this verse, it is necessary to repeat and say the verse an additional time…
(Despite the typical speed at which communal prayer often takes place, and the tendency to recite texts with which one is familiar for having said them over and over down through the years, the demand that attention be paid to this verse and that it should actually be repeated if the requisite intent did not accompany its recitation, again reflects the extent to which this is considered a central concern for any religious individual.)
It seems to me that the intent of placing so much emphasis upon Psalms 145:16 is not only because it represents a cornerstone belief regarding God, i.e., He Is Concerned about the welfare of all of His Creatures and will Make Sure that their various, minimal needs for survival are met, but also that human beings are all expected to partner with God and participate in his Good Works—see “Feeling Deep Compassion for the Oppressed” [http://jewishvaluescenter.org/jvoblog/Oppressed]). In other words, to the extent that our time and resources allow, it is similarly the responsibility of every believing individual to emulate God’s Example and to help those who, for one reason or another, are unable to care for themselves.
In more overt fashion, the Torah uses terminology that describes a Commandment to care for others as directed primarily at ourselves, rather than only indirectly as a means to follow God’s Example:
7 If there be among you a needy man… within any of thy gates … thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; 8 But thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.
The duality of a poetical, theologically-charged verse in Psalms being complemented by a legalistic verse in Deuteronomy begs the question, to my mind, of to what sort of directive will man prove to be more responsive? While it is possible that both types of approaches are needed since every human being consists of a mind and a soul, and each component must be seriously addressed in order to achieve the maximum positive response, I am sure that various people occupy positions along a wide spectrum, where some identify with the more spiritual, others favor rationalism and legalism, and still others reflect infinite combinations of one or the other. Rather than viewing the Jewish tradition and its seminal sources as a monolithic work addressed only to one type of individual, perhaps a more psychologically sensitive rendering would assume, in light of educational multiple intelligence theory, that in toto, all sorts of types of Jews are being addressed at the same time, and that some sources are directed more to one type of person than to others. Another possibility might be that as each of us ages, different materials will “speak” to us at different stages of our lives, and for this reason, the tradition is replete with so many different formats. Whether an individual ought to strive to internalize and relate to materials that essentially were meant to address others or people who belong to a different age cohort than where he finds himself presently, is an interesting question that these musings generate, and such a discussion would be welcome.
Rabbi Jack Bieler was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1974. He has been an administrator and faculty member of Orthodox Jewish day schools for over thirty years. He is a Jerusalem Fellow and has published and lectured widely on the philosophy of Modern Orthodox Jewish education. He has served as Rabbi of KMS since 1993. He publishes a blog of his own at email@example.com.
Rabbi Bieler has been a Panelist for Jewish Values Online for several years, responding to questions. You can find his answers by visiting Jewish Values Online, selecting the ‘View all panelists’ link, and clicking his name. A link will appear with his bio to show all answers he has submitted. Rabbi Bieler wrote one of the Blog entries selected as the three best for the first Quarter of 5779. You can see that entry on the front page of the Jewish Values Online Website.
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Hello - I'm wondering if there are any laws or guidelines about our obligations to those that help us. I'm familiar with the concepts of tzedakah that refer to charitable acts and methods of giving, but am seeking suggestions or links for appropriate guidelines when one receives or is the one who is assisted.
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