Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Regard for the poor (Proverbs 28:27)

Posted by jac/cdc on January 17, 2007

(Proverbs 28:27) נֹותֵן לָרָשׁ אֵין מַחְסֹור וּמַעְלִים עֵינָיו רַב־מְאֵרֹות׃

no-TAYN la-RASH AYN mach-SOR u-ma-LEEM ay-NAV rav-m’-ay-ROT

Whoever gives to the poor does not lack, but whoever turns a blind eye many curses.

Care of the poor is universally blessed among the world’s religions. Our modern culture (speaking of the West) fails in this task in two ways. First, because economic success has become a virtue (at least in North America), the poor are looked upon by some as less industrious and sometimes downright lazy: anyone can succeed (i.e., get rich) if they just try. Second, the plight of the poor is blamed by others on the “system,” and therefore the task of caring for the poor can become institutionalized: let the government take care of the poor.

The real issue in this proverb, however, is not the origins of a person’s poverty, but the genuineness of a person’s compassion for the poor. The justice in showing regard to the plight of the poor is assumed in this proverb, both by those who curse (whether the poor themselves or the people in general) and by the one who turns a blind eye, because in so doing the person feigns ignorance about the poor.

This proverb states that, by contrast, the one who shows compassion and generosity toward the poor will not lack. Although the proverb presumes money is primarily what is involved, it is not limited to that sense. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that here, as elsewhere, the sages describe the world as it should be, not as it necessarily is; but in doing so they construct a world that challenges our own false conceptions of justice and the poor.

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