The needs are all too familiar in our communities. We are constantly bombarded with reminders as we see and hear about people around us:
- The difficulty paying for living expenses such as food, basic clothing, rent and tuition.
- The children in school and on the street in torn shoes and old ill-fitting clothing.
- The heartbreak of sudden medical needs for which money is all too-often lacking.
- Evictions, shut-off notices, broken appliances, legal expenses, the list goes on and on.
We all want to help, but we can’t do it alone. We have to join forces, combine resources, and match the needs with the means to meet them. That is why we started this organization, and that is why we are continuing to partner with you, both people of great means, and people of great desires to help others.
Imagine, if you will, a parent whose child – lo aleninu – overdosed, or who made a suicide attempt, and is in need of a residential program to treat the problem. The costs of such programs are hugely expensive, and often beyond the means of the family members. Yet fund-raising is next to impossible. The embarrassment of asking for tzedukah when they never ever did before; the impossibility of revealing the reason for their need, the worry that if word gets out the child’s future shiddich prospects are in tatters. Finally they swallow their pride and reveal their problem to people of means, or to chesed organizations, only to find that many turn them away empty-handed or with only token contributions. So, in addition to their worry about their child, they have the added worry of raising a lot of money, in a short time. Worse, doors are repeatedly closed, and they are often treated with disrespect, etc.
The Code of Jewish Law on Giving Tzedukah
- One should be very careful not to raise his voice against or embarrass a poor person.
- If one gives tzedaka while expressing a begrudging face one doesn’t get any mitzvah even if he gave a very large sum of money. Rather, one is obligated to give him with a nice expression, happiness, empathy for his plight, and with words of encouragement.
1] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:8
2]The Rambam (Matanot Laniyim 10:4) writes that a person should not give tzedaka with a sour face and if he does he loses his mitzvah. Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 249:3 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 34:7 codify this. Radvaz sources it in Bava Batra 9b that a person is rewarded for cheering up a poor person. The Gra cites the source for this Rambam in the pasuk Devarim 15:10. The Sefer Hachinuch 479 seems to adopt the same approach that the mitzvah of tzedaka is to give it with happiness and giving in a begrudging manner isn’t a mitzvah. Tzafnat Pane’ach says that the source for the Rambam is Chagiga 5a. Chagiga 5a shows that it is better not to give tzedaka than to give and embarrass the poor person. Avot Drebbe Natan ch. 13 writes that if a person gives someone a lot of presents with his face looking towards the ground it is like he gave him nothing.
Keren Yisroel will often take upon themselves the whole financial burden. As our founder expresses it, “It’s bad enough that an emergency need arises and the worry and anxiety that goes with it. Add to that that finances are lacking and so the worry increases. As if that is not enough, the difficulty asking others for money and the embarrassment and difficulties involved. Far better that we at the Keren should take this burden from the family. If someone disrespects me, or has no time or patience, I will not take it personally.”
Our goal is to be sensitive to this fragile emotional state and to be supportive in any way that we can. This means we try to treat the person in need with respect and dignity to spare them the additional embarassment of feeling demeaned and put down because they are in need. We may not be able to help everyone, nor give all the help they need, but we can make sure they are treated with respect.
Grab a mitzvah
By giving the donor the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of tzedukah, the poor man performs a greater kindness than the donor does when he gives him his coins.
Vayikrah Rabbah, 34:8.