Parshat Behar: Are the Poor and Needy Among You? - Tzedakah, Not Charity!
by: Cheryl Pedersen
Every city has them, the poor, the homeless, and the disenfranchised. They stand at the end of the off ramp and rush out to wash your windshield in hopes of a handout. They congregate on the corners of busy intersections with signs that say “Will Work for Food” or “Homeless Vet Needs Help.” In some places they are brazen enough to walk up to people on the street and ask for money. In other places, they huddle in their tents, too often in drug-induced fog, not knowing what’s going on around them or even if they will see tomorrow.
Our answer in many cities is to say, they need housing. Shelters take them in on a first-come-first-serve basis, but that doesn’t resolve the issue. Oftentimes the rules at the shelter get them kicked back to the streets. Some cities build dwellings for them sans rules and, while expensive, it does nothing to alleviate the problem. As we see millions of more refugees from South and Central America flood across our borders, practically unimpeded, we have to wonder where they will go, how they will be supported, and if they will join those living on the streets. Many of our homeless need much more than a roof over their heads. They need help with addictions or mental illness. They need a hand up far more than a hand out.
In this week’s parashah there is an interesting passage that says:
“If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side: do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, but fear your God. Let him live by your side as your kinsman. Do not lend him your money at advance interest, or give him your food at accrued interest. I the LORD am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. Leviticus 25:35-38