One of the most recurring themes of scripture is that of being tested.
Trying to hide in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit, God tests Adam and Eve by simply inquiring, “Where are you?”
After he killed his brother, God puts their son Cain to the test by simply asking him, “Where is your brother Abel?”
The story of the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah begins with the words, “God put Abraham to the test.”
Moses was tested over and over again by his followers who doubted his wisdom and leadership.
The list of tests goes on and on throughout scripture, extending well into the Gospel accounts and New Testament narratives.
It is often said that God’s most noteworthy test of all is the personal and communal one that is outlined in the portion ritually read from the Torah this morning in synagogues throughout the world, named Re’eh.
In it, the book of Deuteronomy prescribes that tithes be set aside from one’s rich harvests of grain, wine and oil.
That 10th part of the yield was not only dedicated to the maintenance of the ancient Temple and its priesthood, it also was specifically earmarked for the care and welfare of “the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (Deut. 14:29).
This “test of abundance,” as I call it, is actually a primary test of every human being in every generation because it asks: Will we as individuals and as groups become so consumed with our own personal achievements and communal successes that we just forget all about God, turning blind eyes from the real plight of the poor, the homeless and all of those in need who do, in fact, dwell among us?
Like Ancient Israel in the promised land some 3,000 years ago, we, too, are truly blessed. We similarly live in a rich land that is filled with copious resources, and where we really lack for nothing.
But the eighth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy warned them as it continues to warn us today: “When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in ... and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God ... and you say to yourselves, ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.’ Remember, it is the Lord, your God, who gives you the power to prosper.”
The Hebrew word Re’eh, the title of this week’s portion, actually means “See.”
“See” the abundance in our lives in this good land to which God has brought us, and count your many blessings.
“See” as well the desperate plight of those in distress and in real need who do dwell among us, and do something about it.
For God also teaches in Re’eh that “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land” (Deut. 15:11), and that we pass the “test of abundance” by simply opening our hands to the poor and the needy among us, and sharing with them that which God has so abundantly given us.
Rabbi Larry Schlesinger serves Temple Beth Israel in Macon.