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Behar: Wholehearted Giving

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his hereditary land, a close relative can come and redeem what his kinsman has sold” (Vayikra 25:25).


Says the Midrash: “Happy is he who is thoughtful of the impoverished.” (Tehillim 41:2).

Rav Yona adds: “It does not say ‘Happy is he who gives to the impoverished,’ but rather, ‘Happy is he who is thoughtful of the impoverished,’ who considers and contemplates what will truly improve his lot.” (Tanchuma Behar, Midrash Rabbah Behar, 34:1)

Support of an impoverished person has to be done wholeheartedly and intelligently. The more intelligent thought that goes into giving, the greater and more lasting its effect. We must become involved in the pain of the poor person — to taste the bitterness of his heart, to become part of him. This is the most important encouragement we can offer him, as Rashi says [on Parshas Mishpatim, Shemos 22:24]: “Regarding the impoverished among you; look at yourself as if you yourself are impoverished.” (Rav Chaim Zaitchik, Mayanei HaChaim, Parshas Behar 247)

The man at my door slowly offered his  letter of approbation. Keeping his eyes down, he said, “My son needs an operation. Could you help us pay for it?”

I asked him to wait a moment, and went to look for some change. As I was on my way back to the door, money in hand, my nine-year-old daughter called out, “Mommy, please tell him to wait; I also want to give him something.” And, in front of my startled eyes, she opened her purse and took out a $20 bill.

I was shocked. This daughter? From her sacred pink purse? She doesn’t buy candy, because “it’s a waste of my money.” She is the only child in the family who hoards money, and is unwilling to part with even a penny from her stash until she “gets married,” at which time she’ll use it to “buy a big house.”

But she was happily holding out the bill to the man at the door, looking so fulfilled by her exalted action that I felt genuine admiration.

“Do you know why I did that, Mommy?” She wanted me to understand the aberration in her behavior.  “Imagine having a sick boy who needs an operation and not having any money to pay for it! How horrible! This boy must be suffering and his father can’t help him.”

All that afternoon my daughter was feeling terrible for the sick boy and for “his father who now has to run around in this heat just to collect a little bit of money.”

Where was I in the picture?

“The giver must be a partner in the tears of the poor man, a partner in his affront. We must remove the shame of hunger, and give our offering in a way that enables the poor man to put aside thoughts of his poverty, and forget that the giver is a rich benefactor. We must erase the boundary and the domain separating the giver and the receiver.

This should be done by giving the donation with an attitude of submission and lowering oneself until the poor man feels himself a member of a distinguished family, whom HaKadosh Baruch Hu is personally supporting, and who has even more merits than the benefactor in front of him. (Ibid.)

In this case, the impoverished one is … me.

I need to feel that I am that woman who receives used clothing, that I am that student shamefacedly confessing that she has no money to pay for the class trip. Or to envision myself as the neighbor for whom our entire building chips in to make her life a little easier. To feel myself there, in that place of nothing, in that intolerable place of always being on the receiving end. And to ask myself: How I would want others to react to my distress? Can I then make my vision materialize for others?

“There are those who give with an open hand, but whose heart and whose love are restrained.

After the benefactor has given his donation, and the poor or sick has left his home, is he, the benefactor, still caught up in their pain? Are their groans of distress and suffering still echoing in his ears — do they remain lingering when he goes to sleep that night? The basic rule is to hold out one’s heart together with one’s hand. (ibid.)

Let’s empathize with their cries in the privacy of night, and with the pain that screams silently within the confines of the heart.

Let’s try to be there. In their place of trouble, loneliness, or instability. Then we join them in their pain.

We just need to infuse our tzedakah with small pieces of our heart.

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