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D'varim/Deuteronomy 16:11 ... you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid-servant, the Levite, the alien, the orphan and the widow ...
This is the list of people who are to rejoice before the L-rd at the feast of Shavuot each year at the end of the first harvest season, at the end of the period known as the Counting of the Omer, fifty days from Pesach. The full text reads: "And you shall rejoice before the L-rd your G-d - you, your son, your daughter, your slave/servant, your maid-servant, the Levite who is in your games, the alien, the orphan and the widow who is in your midst, in the place where Adonai your G-d will choose to dwell His name there".Rashi, incorporating the Sages before him, comments: "My four corresponding to your four ... if you will make mine happy, I will make yours happy" (Tanchuma 18). The two groups of four - those in a household and those outside a normal household - demonstrates how tightly integrated the immediate and the extended families are intended to work within G-d's community.
The Levites, who lived among the other tribes, but without a land inheritance, were dependent on G-d to provide for them by way of the tithes of the people and their share in the offerings at the temple. The aliens, widows and orphans, without even that statutory provision that the Levites were supposed to enjoy, were nevertheless specifically included in the social economy of the nation Israel. Here, in this verse, G-d makes three interesting points: firstly that those outside the normal household and family structures are to be explicitly included in the rejoicing at this feast-time; secondly that the rejoicing will be incomplete or invalid if the disadvantaged are not included and embraced within the celebration; and, thirdly by implication, that the measure of the rejoicing - whether everyone is actually able to enjoy it - is directly related to the degree that everyone is included.
When he was describing how he was commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem to take the gospel to the Gentiles, Rav Sha'ul wrote that, "they only asked us to remember the poor - the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10, NASB). Ya'akov adds: "the religious observance that G-d the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress" (Ya'akov 1:27, CJB). Four categories are covered by Z'kharyah: "Don't oppress widows, orphans, foreigners or poor people" (Z'kharyah 7:10, CJB) while Isaiah brings G-d's word defining the way that the people should behave to the people of his time: "Learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widows" (Isaiah 1:17, CJB). G-d's heart for His people is that everyone from the rich down to the poor, from the able-bodied to the disabled, from families to orphans, widows, singles and the childless, is that they should all be included in His family and have reason to rejoice before Him.
Further Study: Psalm 146:7-9; Luke 14:12-14
Application: Whether you feel yourself to be on the outside, longing for someone to invite you in, or whether you have been blessed with substance to share with others in G-d's economy, know that G-d's family is meant to be inclusive and that you are called to reach out to and with those around you and share and rejoice together.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
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