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Returning to the Book of Deuteronomy

This past week, we returned to the Book of Deuteronomy, or Sefer Devarim, the Book of Words. The words of Deuteronomy are especially meaningful because they help us conceive of what it takes to build a society based on tzedek (justice), and rachmanut (compassion)--two important values amidst our country's current, and seemingly never-ending, health care debate. As I observed the recent late-night votes, I made a point to review Jewish perspectives on healthcare.

In a broader sense, Deuteronomy calls us to open wide our hands to our siblings, to those in need and to the poor in our land. (Deut. 15:11) So in that spirit, Maimonides lists health care among the ten most important communal services that had to be offered by a city to its residents (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Hamadda IV:23); and by extension, health coverage for all--in our own time--is an essential Jewish obligation.

When health care legislation helps 20 million more people get insured, that legislation is transformative. When it assures more pikuach nefesh (saving lives) and refuah shleimah (healing), it is a blessing of all blessings. But of course, if the coverage it provides is too difficult to afford for hard-working people, the plan needs improvement--not disregard and contempt.

The health care debate is ultimately a matter of how we as a society cultivate tzedek and rachmanut. Moreover, the fight for proper health coverage--that which applies to as many people as possible for as efficient a cost as possible--is not simply a politician's errand; it is ours as well. Struggle on!

Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!

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