Parshat Re’eh: Deuteronomy
Before entering the promised land, Moses prepares the Israelites by going over how they should act and the laws they should follow. He reminds them of the importance of acting in accordance with the laws even as they enter into a new land and a new way of life.
In Re’eh, there is an emphasis on making sure sacrifices only take place in the central location of the temple, a location that “God will choose.” This poses a challenge for the Israelite meat eaters. In the desert, the only way the Israelites could eat meat was through offering an animal as a sacrifice and then enjoying it as part of a sacrificial meal. Now that the Israelites are preparing to spread out across the land, it is much harder for them to all get to that one central location to offer the sacrifices so they could eat meat.
So what happens? The Israelites receive permission and instruction on how to eat meat outside of a sacrificial context (Deuteronomy 12:15). There is a realization that the expectation everyone will not only offer sacrifices in Jerusalem but also only eat meat when it’s a sacrifice is not realistic, so the Torah makes adjustments to this new reality.
This is the same with the laws of tithing in this Torah portion. First the ideal: Bring all the first fruits to the temple (Deuteronomy 14:22). Then comes the recognition that this might not be possible for everyone. The Torah gives us another option: If you are unable to bring the tithe (which for many would include animals, produce, heavy stuff), then trade it all in for money and bring the money to the temple. Once they arrive with their money, they can use it to buy food to feast on there.
This is an example of adjusting or allowing room for different circumstances. The changes allow more people to take part in those spiritual practices. It is a recognition that there can be physical barriers to participation, that it is worthwhile to make adjustments. It is taking into account the physical needs of those around us, not just the spiritual. When we do so, we make our spaces more welcoming.
In my work at Hillel, it is something I have seen in action; because Michigan State’s campus is so big, it makes a difference when we help coordinate rides for students to be able to come to events. Or when I was running a morning minyan, offering breakfast to give people one less thing to worry about when trying to get out of their houses so early in the morning. Certain small changes can go a long way toward helping people show up and making them feel welcome.
What was a time someone made you feel welcome? Have you ever made an adjustment to allow someone else to be able to show up and participate? What can we do to make our Jewish spaces more welcoming?
Rebecca Walker is the senior Jewish educator at Michigan State University Hillel and the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan.