The Amazing Rich People Among Us
By Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum
It has happened to all of us. You have just come home after an exhausting day. You are tired. You are hungry. You finally sit down to eat something and there is a knock at the door or a ring of the bell. You wearily get up. Either you go to the door to see who is there or you press the intercom and you hear one word: “tzedakah.”
After a grueling day, there are some people who still have the iron strength to reluctantly push away the hot plate of food and bring the meshulach into the house, spend a few minutes with him, and give him a check. Others will “not be available.” This writer certainly is not going to pass judgment on anyone. We all know that it is virtually impossible to keep one’s doors open all the time.
One thing is certain, however. “Merubim tzorchei amcha. The needs of Your nation are many.” Most people living in established frum communities can attest to the fact that Klal Yisroel’s needs are many. Every day, whether it is at shul during davening, at home during lunch or supper, on Sundays, or through phone calls at all hours, our help for individuals and organizations is being sought. Yidden are rachmonim bnei rachmonim and, more often than not, give.
THE AMAZING FORTITUDE OF PARNOSSEI YISROEL
Recently, I had occasion to attend a number of dinners and parlor meetings for various organizations. One thing that struck me was how, despite the events benefiting disparate organizations - yeshivos, chessed organizations, kiruv organizations and a girls school - so many of the attendees were the same. There was a core group of baalei chessed, men of means, present at many of those events. Those Yidden come out night after night, for one event or another, showing their faces, participating, writing a check and leaving. I am certain that when they arrive home, many of them have lines of people waiting to speak to them and tell them their personal stories of woe or about the important role the mosad for which they work plays in Klal Yisroel – and, of course, to ask for a donation
There are many individuals of means who truly exhibit greatness in the way that they share the burden of Klal Yisroel. They have a sense of achrayus to the klal, dedicating hours upon hours of time to assist various organizations and to meet with roshei yeshiva, executive directors and meshulachim, all desperately seeking help.
TWO NISYONOS,THE NISAYON OF POVERTY AND THE NISAYON OF WEALTH
Many of us, perhaps wrongly, look at the opulent house, the nice car and the kovod that these individuals receive upon entering a room, but we do not realize that being a parneis, a philanthropist who really cares, comes with a ton of work, loads of agmas nefesh, and many a thankless task.
Yes, I know that some cynics will say, “If it is so bad, I am willing to switch with him any day.” Such commenters perhaps neglect to see how Chazal view this. Chazal teach us that there is the nisayon ha’oni and the nisayon ha’osher, the trials and tribulations of poverty and indigence as well as the trials and tribulations of wealth. It is not clear which nisayon is greater. One of the trials and tribulations of wealth is the constant badgering by individuals and organizations seeking assistance.
A person who gives of his precious time, money and emotional energy to assist and empathize with those who come before him, recognizing that every “sob story” is someone’s life and that every petitioner is going through real pain, is following in the footsteps of his Creator. Hashem is merciful and we must also be merciful. At least in one way, that person is passing the nisayon of ashirus.
We all know what Chazal tell us in Megillas Rus. Elimelech, the son of Nachshon ben Aminodov, left Eretz Yisroel during the time of famine because he did not want to deal with the unending needs of his fellow Yidden, who were constantly banging on his door. We know what happened to him. Even the zechus of Nachshon and even his many sterling qualities and piety could not save him.
RECOGNIZE, INTERNALIZE AND ADMIRE THOSE WHO KEEP ON GIVING
When one sees the same people over and over, at parlor meeting after parlor meeting, one must be filled with admiration. It is not only that they are busy at event after event, but even when they arrive home, they are assailed by countless individuals seeking their assistance.
There are houses that one can visit every night between certain hours where one will see lines of people standing, waiting for a chance to enter, tell his story, and pick up a check. As a person who has accompanied the needy on a number of occasions, I am often amazed at how these wealthy individuals sit there every night, listening intently to yet another difficult tale of woe, commiserating and then writing out a generous check. Not once, not twice, but tens of times a day, day in and day out.
Just think for a second what it means to be a parneis al hatzibbur. Whenever someone says he wants to speak to you about something important, you know that he wants money from you. Whenever someone knocks on your door, you know he wants a donation. Whenever you are at a wedding, at a bar mitzvah or at PTA and you meet someone, more often than not he wants money from you. To be able to overcome cynicism, to be able to truly listen and still care, is a tremendous madreigah, a profound spiritual achievement.
Those who make themselves impossible to access and those who think that the money entrusted to them as a pikodon really belongs to them and comes with no strings attached and with no sense of responsibility to Klal Yisroel fail the nisayon of wealth. They are using the bounty that Hashem gave them without realizing that everything in life comes with responsibility.
“THE MONEY MAY LAST FOR A WHILE, BUT I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR SMILE”
Please, my dear friends, when you see your wealthy friend and neighbor who is always or often there for others, take a second to contemplate the responsibility that he bears. Take a moment to fargin him. Have a bit of tov ayin. Realize that you probably would not do better if you were in his shoes, and you might very well do worse.
And perhaps all of us, even those not blessed with abundant funds, can learn just one more lesson from these wonderful people who somehow find the strength to open their doors every night and smile by at least accepting each person who comes to our homes with a smile, regardless of how much we give.
I am reminded of a song that I often listened to as a child on one of the JEP records:
Remember, my child, as long as you live,
To people in need tzedakah you’ll give.
The money may last for a while,
But I’ll always remember your smile.