Friday, February 26, 2010

A Society of Schnorrers - Tzedakah Part 2

Second in a series. (Part one here)

A moment ago, I heard a soft knock on the door - literally. You can pretty much tell who's at the door by the way that they knock. I opened the door to find two yeshiva bachurim collecting money for their yeshiva (one which I've never heard of and actually don't even remember the name of anymore). They had a sheepish look on their face - the one that says that they'd rather be anywhere else but asking me for money - and yet there they were, telling me that they're from "Yeshivat something something in Yerushalayim", collecting for a fund for "kollel families and needy students."
I smiled, and calmly explained to them that I prefer to focus my donations on the local yeshivot that we have here in the area. It's not a copout. I actually did write a check to a local yeshiva this week.
I'm sure this experience is not unique to me. If you're reading this blog, there's a strong chance that you've heard the same knock on your door, multiple times, to find young men standing there asking for money for their yeshivot. I'm not even sure how this custom developed, but it seems to have grown exponentially in recent years, with yeshivot sending their students out during the weeks before and after Purim collecting.
On one hand, yeshivot need money. They can't survive without donations, and running a yeshiva is really expensive. But this new phenomenon, of bachurim collecting for the yeshiva, bothers me for a very simple reason: we're training an entire generation of schnorrers.
Yesterday in shul, not one but two people asked for money at the end of davening. The first was a young man who said that he came from a large family (of 13 children), and that the family simply could not provide sufficient funds for his upcoming wedding. So he came collecting. I wondered: if he had an upcoming wedding and needed to pay for expenses to build his home, who gave him the right to sit in yeshiva and ask me to pay for his household? Why didn't he first assume that he should go out, get a job, do his best, and then ask me for help with his shortfall (which I would have been more open to)?
By sending our students out collecting for their yeshivot (and by extension, for themselves), we're training them to ask other people for money. We're giving them a head start on overcoming what should be a natural aversion to asking other people for help. We're teaching them that the best way to support yourself is to ask someone else to pay your way. And while these boys might very well be learning a lot of Torah in their yeshiva, this might be the most practical aspect of their education.
In the third brachah of Bircat Hamazon, we ask God for the following:
ונא אל תצריכינו, ה' אלקינו, לא לידי מתנת בשר ודם, ולא לידי הלואתם, כי אם לידך המלאה הפתוחה הקדושה והרחוה, שלא נבוש ולא נכלם לעולם ועד.
And please do not make us require, Hashem our God, neither the gifts of the hands of flesh and blood (other people), nor their loans; rather [supply us with the bounty of] Your full, open, holy, benevolent Hand - so that we never feel neither shamed nor debased.
Where is the obvious sense of shame and debasement that's so basic to human nature that it's part of the birkat hamazon?
I guess with enough practice you can get used to anything.