We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Invite someone over who could use a break.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #7
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
And let the poor be members of your household
Perek Aleph, Mishna Hai Part 2
V’Y’hiyu Aniyim B’nai Baisecha
Story: (based on a true story)
I’m in the middle of my second homework shift, the one that happens while the younger kids eat their early dinner. My middle school daughter just came home and likes to get her math done before she eats, so I process pre-Algebra while I scoop out spoonfuls of pasta and hand one of the younger kids a plate to take to my husband in his home office. I’ve gotten used to this balance, and have even used it as a creative way to teach fractions.
What’s hard to do during that time is leave the kitchen. My husband is twenty feet and a closed door away, but basically unavailable, so it’s just me managing it all and I need to be there. But the insistent knock on my door was trying to convince me otherwise. I worked to ignore it. If it was someone I knew, they would have called my cell phone after a minute. And, it was winter, which means mincha-ma’ariv was getting out, which meant that whoever was on the other side of my front door had just finished collecting in the shul around the corner and was now coming to me.
Knowing how many knocks I get on the door and how much it frustrated me, my rebbetzin told me that even though my husband is working at home, I don’t need to answer the door for collectors when I am busy with the kids. If need be, since my husband was a shout away, I would open the door, hand over a couple of dollars, smile and say “Hatzlacha!” and close the door again. It was very practical advice, which I used often out of necessity, particularly on nights when many many people came. I spent more time with people who came to the door when the kids were asleep or my husband wasn’t working.
But as my kids grew, I saw some cracks in this system. Crack number one: the kids wouldn’t let me not get the door. Knocking turned to bell-ringing, and dinner or homework would stop until it was resolved. Crack number two: they weren’t seeing enough positive tzedaka experiences.
So I told myself that on some nights, I would let homework and dinner go a bit and invest in this mitzva instead, and I instituted a new system. As I went to get the door, I put my pre-schooler in charge of getting a plastic cup and giving it to the child older than him. This gave him a job so he didn’t begin painting the kitchen table with his ketchup. The cup was then filled with water by the child who received it, and both kids then walked to the front door and handed it to whoever was there. If there was more than one person, they went back to the kitchen and did it again, giving me more time to listen to stories from the collectors. Sometimes this earned my children a bracha from the collectors. Then I would give what I had, and politely excuse myself to finish my night. If someone made me nervous, I sent the kids to get my husband.
I found that in general, the more I gave of my time and energy, the less annoyed I was. Several years later, a man came collecting to help a child who was sick with something one of my relatives had. My heart opened, but I only had four dollars in my wallet and my husband was on a call so I couldn’t disturb him, so I asked the man for his son’s name so I could daven for him. His face lit up as he wrote it down, and then he asked for my relative’s name so he too could daven for a fellow Jew. When I put it on the fridge, my daughter asked about it, and then added it to her list. I now ask for names when I have time. It shows the people that I take them seriously, and it’s something I can do.
And I have learned from that man; sometimes when someone in my family is in need of tefillos, after I take the name of the sick person from the collector, I will ask them to daven for my person in need and give the davening name. That way they can do something to help me, which helps to even out the give/take balance between us and brings in someone else to daven for my family’s need. More than once, I have thanked HaShem for sending me extra people who can daven for my child.
On this particular night amidst homework and dinner, the bell begins to ring and I leave my daughter in charge in the kitchen, telling her that tzedaka calls and I will try not to be too long. I open the door to a young man with a large bag at his feet and a children’s book in his hand. He hands me the book and opens the large bag, telling me that he is selling books to help support his family. My eight year old son arrives with water and I ask him to look through the bag with me to see what we don’t have.
A quick look shows that we have most and don’t really want the others. I thank my son and send him back to the kitchen, then go back to the bag and choose two books I already saw that I know we already have. I pay for them and thank the man, and then close the door and go back to the table. I then hand the books to my son.
“But we already have them!” he says to me.
“Yes,” I answer, with all of the other children listening. “But he needed to sell them. I wanted to buy from someone who needs help and is working hard to support his family. I’d rather buy a book from him that I don’t need than have him have to come back asking for tzedaka. So I guess now we have doubles.”
My kids had a better idea--we donated the books to two of their classrooms.
It is hard to go to the door so often. It is hard to listen when people tell you they need more than you have at the time. It is sometimes even hard to cut off a five minute blessing that a collector gives you, which you would love to have, because your toddler is stuffing the bathroom sink with tissues or because this is the only time you have to ask your son about his day. And a balance is necessary. But what I gain in teaching my children to give to and welcome those who need is priceless. When one of my older kids hears me tell the fifth collector on a Sunday that unfortunately both my husband and I are out of money and tells us to wait, going to his or her own room and bringing back a dollar or two of their own money and handing it over with a smile, it brightens the collector’s day, and I know this important message is received.
“Yosi ben Yochanan ish Yerushalayim omer, v’y’hi’yu aniyim b’nai baisecha…”
“Yosi son of Yochanan of Yerushalayim says, “… and let the poor be members of your household…” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Hai).
A person should treat poor guests with no less consideration than he gives to the members of his own family. “You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be upset when you give him” (Devarim 15:10). The most important aspect of charity is the manner in which it is proffered. One must give respectfully, out of feeling of empathy and with a deep understanding of the poor person’s needs.
The reward for giving charity is commensurate with the amount of kindness invested in it. “Giving a coin to a poor person is deserving of six blessings. Making him feel better is deserving of eleven blessings” (Bava Basra 9b). And, our sages teach, “Smiling at a poor person is better than giving him milk to drink” (Kesuvos 11b).
In order to put a poor guest at ease, the entire family must act kindly and with humility. “Teach the members of your family to act humble” (Avos D’Rabbi Nosson 6:2) so as not to feel superior to those who require their help. Then the poor are assured that they will be welcomed and not viewed as an imposition.
The Rambam learns from this mishna that we should help Jews in distress by hiring them to work for us. The phrase “member of the household” can refer to anyone who contributes to the economy of the home, such as Eliezer, servant of Avraham, who is so described (B’raishis 15:2). Be sure to conduct business with the Jewish poor, thus enabling them to earn an honorable living rather than depending upon charity.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are some challenges regarding giving tzedaka and making a poor person comfortable in our home?
What are some practical ways to deal with these challenges?
How can we help to boost the dignity of a person who comes to us asking for money?
Stretch of the Week:
Put an extra measure of kindness into your interaction with someone collecting tzedaka.