Some people are generous, and other people are not. My grandfather was a very generous man. He never turned away anyone who was asking for help. They didn’t have to be part of his religion to help. He gave to Nuns as quickly as he gave to Jewish charities. He had an attitude of helping others, simply because he felt he was blessed and could give something. It was a good characteristic I have tried to emulate in my own life. When I lived in New York City, I made it a regular practice to give to those in need.
Recently, our congregation has undertaken the project of getting a haftorah scroll. They are costly and rare. I posted a campaign on facebook to try to raise some funds toward getting the scroll. I figured that of my 1600+ friends, who say I’ve been a blessing to them, some might want to pitch in and help. The reality is, most have not. I am not pushing them, but I have to admit, I feel bad about it. I don’t put a dollar sign on what I do, but some people are willing to be “blessed” by what I do, but don’t really care about helping when I ask for it.
That in itself is not so bad. I do what I do because I serve God, not them. If God uses me to be a blessing, I am happy about that. I wasn’t feeling too bothered by it until someone decided to take me to task, sounding very “holy” about it. They addressed me as “brother,” and instead of saying God or “The Lord,” they referred to him as “AdoShem,” apparently to reflect their level of holiness. They said if I just trust AdoShem, if he wanted us to have the haftorah, He would provide it, and I wouldn’t have to come with my hand out. In other words, he was objecting to me asking for help. Perhaps he objected because he was being confronted with a request. To dismiss it as begging is inaccurate and a slur.
For one thing, I wasn’t begging. I pointed out that while yes, we do trust God, and thats why we even have the opportunity to get the scroll, there is nothing wrong with giving people the opportunity to help. If people don’t know there’s a need, they don’t know they can help if they want to. Secondly, when God told Moses to have the sons’s of Israel to build the Mishkan, the tabernacle, he asked them to give. Moses was not coming with his hand out, and to characterize it as such would have been wrong. The people had a spirit of generosity, and they gave so much, the Kohains had to ask them to stop giving, because they had all they needed. Jewish values don’t stop at honoring God’s Name with words. They include honoring His Name with our values. Giving Tzedakah, charity, is a core value. Another value is not to demean someone who is collecting Tzedakah. The reason they collected for the Mishkan was purely for the glory of God, to make His worship beautiful. Whenever you do a mitzvah, you should not do the bare minimum, but make it as nice as possible. Getting the haftorah scroll is likewise for the glory of God; to make our service as nice as possible.
If this guy didn’t want to give, he didn’t have to. He could have just scrolled on. He didn’t need to imply there was something wrong with asking, or that the one asking “had his hand out.” He implied he was holier than thou, and more likely, he was hiding behind a veil of superior holiness to mask his own cheapness. I travel around the country, speaking in congregations to raise money for the poor Jews of Eastern Europe. Most places I go are pretty generous. Every once in a while, I go somewhere and they don’t cover my travel expenses or take up an offering for the poor. That for me, is a problem. If they don’t even cover my travel expenses, it means the funds come from what others gave to help the poor. It rarely happens, but when it does, I wonder where the generosity is. God is generous toward us. He has given us so many good things. The way we repay Him, is by helping others and being generous. I hope and pray I will always be generous, and not be cheap toward others and hide behind a thin veil of holy words.