The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is for Sh’mini Atzeret and is found in Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17. In this parasha, Moses reminds the people of the importance of taking care of those who are in need, including those whose are fatherless or widowed, owed debts, are enslaved, or poor. The parasha then discusses the three Pilgrimage Festivals and the importance of participating in these: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
In the passage we find a simple summary of practices that bind us together as Jews. We are committed to Tikkun Olam– “repairing the world” and actively take care of those in need, pursuing social action and justice. We keep holidays and customs that remind us of our history, our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. In particular, our historical beginnings are captured in the three Pilgrimage festivals. When we remember we were slaves, it keeps alive the compassion to reach out to those who have less than we do. When we remember how difficult it was to live in the uncertainty of the wilderness, we are inspired to reach out to others who are facing uncertain times. When we remember that God personally gave us the Ten Commandments we remember our partnership with God in making the world a better place. Our worship to God is not complete with only sacrifices or prayers. Our worship becomes complete when our prayers are turned into action to help others around us. And that interconnectedness between God, others, and the world God created is what being a Jew is all about.