מאכיל רעבים - Feeding the Hungry
Haifa is is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of over 265,000. Haifa is lucky to have the Haifa Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all of Haifa's residents. One of their programs is the Ariel Soup Kitchen.
The Ariel Soup Kitchen (est. 2002), in the Hadar Hacarmel neighborhood, feeds sixty people per day and is one of half a dozen neighborhood-based soup kitchens distributed throughout the city and serving hot, full-course lunches to the needy, among them elderly and disabled people, who rely on the program for their main meal of the day.
What a wonderful way to fulfill the mitzvah of Ma’achil R’eivim (Feeding the Hungry!)
Helping the hungry is fundamental in Judaism. The Talmud states, "Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah combined." (Baba Batra 9a) The Midrash teaches:
God says to Israel, "My children, whenever you give sustenance to the poor, it is as though you gave sustenance to Me...." Does then God eat and drink? No, but whenever you give food to the poor, God accounts it to you as if you gave food to God. (Midrash Tannaim)
On Passover we are reminded not to forget the poor. Besides providing ma'ot chittim (charity for purchasing matzah) for the needy before Passover, at the seders, we reach out to them:
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate the Passover. (Passover Haggadah)
We are even taught to feed our enemies, if they are in need:
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. If your enemy is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Prov. 25:21)
This is consistent with the Jewish teaching that the greatest hero is a person who converts an enemy into a friend (Avot de Rabbi Nathan, chapter 23).
It is a basic Jewish belief that God provides enough for all. In our daily prayers, we say, "God opens up God’s hand and provides sustenance to all living things" (Ps. 145:16). Jews are obligated to give thanks to God for providing enough food for us and for all of humanity. In the birkat hamazon (grace after meals), we thank God "who feeds the whole world with goodness, grace, loving kindness, and tender mercy."
The blessing is correct. God has provided enough for all. The bounties of nature, if properly distributed and properly consumed, would sustain all people. Millions of people are hungry today, not because of insufficient agricultural capacity, but because of unjust social systems and wasteful methods of food production.