Give me your tired, your poor,These words were penned by Emma Lazarus, an American Jewish woman of Portuguese Sephardic descent whose family was in America since colonial times. They are engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
Though these words may seem at odds with the attitudes of some toward immigration, they're not at odds with our tradition:
Yossei the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem would say: Let your home be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household. (Pirkei Avot 1:5a)This parallels a teaching of Yeshua:
"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12b-14)Time for a confession: I feel like I don't really know how to do this. My wife and I love to invite our friends and family over; there's something really wonderful about opening your home to friends new and old. But these verses refer to "the poor" with a capital P, yet my friends and family live pretty comfortably (thankfully). So how do I go about putting this teaching into practice? At this point, my answer is: "I don't know."
I'll make a confession: when Yeshua says "invite the poor to your feast," my first thoughts go to the homeless men I've seen panhandling on the street. And I worry about whether it's safe to invite strange men into my home--to meet my wife (and, in the future, our children).
But surely homeless men aren't the only people who fit the description of poor! What about poor families, with children? What about elderly people with homes but little to eat and no one to eat it with?
Perhaps what I really suffer from is lack of imagination. Perhaps I need to start discovering who Yeshua and R. Yossei are really referring to when they speak of "the poor."
What about you? Do you have any other ideas or stories about how to put these teachings into practice? Feel free to share them in the comments.
Next week we'll see what R. Twerski has to say...