Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Society of Tzedakah and the Kli Yakkar

First in a Series

A rather common occurrence took place in shul this morning. Again.
At the end of davening (sometimes it starts before we're even done), a man dressed mostly in black, clearly not from our yishuv, made the rounds asking for a donation. He held in his hand a pamphlet asking for fund for a family of orphans.
I have stopped giving money to people like this for a very simple reason: I have no way of verifying that they're telling me the truth. This man carried no identification indicating that he represented the given charity. He offered no evidence that the money people give him actually goes to the charity for which he claims to collect.
So I didn't give. Even a small amount.
This is not to say that I don't give tzedakah. I am making a concerted effort to be meticulous about my ma'aser. But I write checks to organizations that I recognize and support. I don't give to people collecting in shuls, the kotel, or on the street. When people come to my door, if they're collecting for themselves I will often give a token amount (I don't feel comfortable asking for documentation for a shekel or two.)
Often, when people come to my door asking for money for a kallah, a wedding or the like, a simple question enters my mind: do you work? How much? If you did, would you need to be asking me for this money?
It sometimes seems like large segments of our society have grown accustomed to "working" in the field of tzedakah. It's simply more lucrative to collect than it is to work. If each door you know on only gives you a shekel or two, you can easily make fifty to a hundred shekel in an hour. Cleaning houses earns forty. Knocking on doors is easier - at least physically, and less demanding.
This clearly isn't just a modern problem. Charlatans have been taking advantage of people's good will and generosity for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Should we happen upon the donkey of our fellow man toppling under its heavy load, the Torah requires that, עזוב תעזוב עמו-- "you shall surely help with him." (Shemot 23:5) Commenting on the requirement to help "with" him, and not "instead" of him, Rav Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, in his commentary Kli Yakar on the Torah writes,
לומר לך דוקא שרוצה להיות עמך במלאכתו ורוצה להקים עמך אז אתה מחויב לסייע לו אבל אם יושב לו ואומר הואיל ועליך מוטל הדבר חייב אתה להקים לבד, על כן אמר וחדלת מעזוב לו...ומכאן תשובה על מקצת עניים בני עמינו המטילים את עצמם על הציבור ואינן רוצים לעשות בשום מלאכה אף אם בידם לעשות באיזו מלאכה או איזה דבר אחר אשר בו יכולין להביא שבר רעבון ביתם, וקוראים תגר אם אין נותנים להם די מחסורם, כי דבר זה לא צוה ה' כי אם עזוב תעזוב עמו הקם תקים עמו כי העני יעשה כל אשר ימצא בכוחו לעשות ואם בכל זה לא תשיג ידו, אז חייב כל איש מישראל לסעדו ולחזקו וליתן לו די מחסורו אשר יחסר לו, ועזוב תעזוב אפילו עד מאה פעמים
This teachs you that specifically he who wishes to be "with you" in his work, and wants to raise the donkey with you - then you are obligated to help him. But if he sits to himself and says, "Since the burden is placed upon you, you alone are obligated to raise [the donkey]", for this the verse teaches us, "you shall hold back from helping him"...And from here we derive a response to the some of the paupers among our nation, who place themselves upon the community, and do not wish to engage in any form of work, even if they are able to perform some work or find some other means to bring sustenance to their homes; and they cry foul if they are not given sufficient means. This is not what God commanded. Rather, only if, "You help with him and raise up [the donkey] with him", should the pauper do everything in his power, and despite these efforts, it is not enough, then every person from Israel must feed him, strengthen him, and give him what he lacks, and must "help him" even a hundred times.
Sometimes it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.