I t is a busy day, and I’m moving quickly to its rhythm. I’m just a streak of color on this Friday afternoon, racing down Park Avenue between the pharmacy and the hosiery store.

Her jangling cup and weary voice are thrust into my sweaty line of vision; her black, baggy button-down shirt hanging to mid-thigh on her heavy body. I look down and see a pair of fuzzy pajama socks stuffed into her worn black shoes, the socks I just bought my young children for a bedtime bribe. Socks I just bought at the dollar store.

I reach into my purse and am disconcerted; I only have small change. A dime, a nickel, another dime. My eyes meet hers and move quickly over her black snood pushed low on her grimy face. I know my money is not enough for whatever it is she needs.

“This is all I have on me. I’m sorry. Good Shabbos. Be well.”

She is not quite as ready to part as I am.

“I need more. I do. I have a young baby, and he needs formula. I have six children and they need food. Come with me into the grocery and buy me something on your card.”

I am taken aback. This interchange is shaping into something eerily similar to a story I read in these pages some weeks ago. But I’m not comfortable. What will happen if she racks up a large bill? If she wants to purchase many items? I’m in a rush myself. And I am nervous at the thought of perusing the aisles of Lipa’s with a beggar woman. I’m aware of a sense of pride too, prohibiting me from being seen with this woman too much longer. I’m uncomfortable at the thought that this pride could stop me from doing a good deed, but still, I am more uncomfortable at the thought of leading this woman into the store with me.

“I’m sorry. I’m not going to do that. Good luck. Good Shabbos.”

I turn and leave. And behind me, her voice carries.

“How could you? How could you?”

I hurry away, angry, guilt-ridden. Should I go to the ATM on Bernard and take out some cash and give it to her? That’s a minimum twenty. I don’t really have the money for that. But I’m not giving maaser these days, as my rav has instructed, and he did advise me that in order to fulfill my tzedakah obligation, I should still be giving to those who ask. Here was my woman who asked.

Still. I see her begging often. Maybe she doesn’t really have six children. Maybe she’s not legit at all. Maybe she’s not even a Jew. I’ve heard these stories where women put on tichels for begging. Maybe. Maybe not. I feel horrible, can’t swipe her fuzzy pajama socks from my mind. I could have done it. I should have gone with her into Lipa’s and bought a few things for her.

She’s not stable, says my reasonable voice, strongly, resolutely. Or maybe that’s my unreasonable voice. It’s hard to know. At a loss, I call my mother. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 559)