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Daily manna from the Torah by Dr Ketriel Blad

Ki Tetzeh 49-7

When you go out

Deuteronomy 24:14 – 25:19

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut. 24:14, 15, 17, 18 NIV)

What does mercy have to do with justice?

Even though the Torah establishes and defends the right to private property, it doesn’t allow a wealthy man to be insensitive to the poor’s needs. Love forces you to not think only of yourself but to love your neighbour as yourself. This doesn’t mean that the Torah agrees with the communist idea in which everyone shares everything equally and where everything belongs to everyone.

The Torah establishes a balance between the right to private property and the obligation to share with others, but there are limits regarding sharing. It’s not correct to give all your belongings to the poor to then end up with no resources and suffering for the whole family. That is not loving your neighbour as yourself - it’s stupidity. One with resources must help the needy, but up to a certain limit. The idea is not that he also becomes poor, but that he can go on being prosperous to have enough for himself and his family, and to be able to share with the needy.

The Torah teaches that the one who does not give the worker his salary on due time is oppressing him, and that is a sin.

Verse 13 speaks about an act of kindness toward the poor as justice, in Hebrew, tzedakahצדקה.  Let’s see the similarity between verses 13 and 15:

(13) Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will bless you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.

(15) Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

The word tzedakah, is used as opposed to sin, in Hebrew chetחטא. The word tzedakah has various meanings in the Scriptures - let’s mention three of them: a right behaviour (Deut. 6:25; Rom 2:13), declaration of innocence (through faith and forgiveness) (Gen. 15:6; Luke. 18:14), and charity (Deut. 24:13; Mat. 6:1).

This teaches us that the one who does charity with the needy is acting in a correct and righteous way. Not treating the needy correctly, by helping and giving him his salary according to the Torah-established parameters, is to sin, the opposite of righteousness. Being considerate with the poor is to do justice, the opposite of sin.

On the other hand, we must say that acts of righteousness that men may do, to obey the Torah, and help the needy, are not means of eternal justification before the Eternal in the sense of gaining or securing one’s salvation. Contrarily, the Eternal’s justification is given as a free gift to those who repent of their sins and believe in His forgiveness, as it is written in Psalm 32:1-2 “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Let us be good to the needy.

Shabbat shalom,


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