Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5759, December 22, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Book Review:
The Hidden World
Challenge, Adventure and Pleasure in Giving

by Yaakov and Varda Bronfman, Reviewed by Sheindel Weinbach

Strange subtitle, no? Unique kind of a book, too. Not a guide, not a promotional book, non-fiction yet very novel, entertaining and imaginative. To the uninitiated, very revolutionary. Not a commercial publication, this 124-pager is put out by Jewish Heritage and Roots Library. What the Hidden World is - is an eyeopener. To a magical brave new world of GIVING.

The very Jewish concept of do-gooding, philanthropy, altruism, or chessed, as the religious person calls it, is not fathomable to the `outsider'. The Bronfmans have tried to present this fascinating fourth dimension of a whole new utopian wonderland to the uninitiated. (I really think they believe it can change the world. So will you.) And we, as insiders, benefit from a wholly new insight into this beautiful world, and receive a strong impetus to broaden our own chessed horizons in its full gamut, from money to hospitality to -- you-name-it always-open-to-suggestions gemachs.

Your reviewer cannot say it better than the authors themselves. So here's a fascinating example, verbatim.



Any sensitive, intelligent person can see that modern society revolves around acquiring material possessions, from adding a wing to the house to buying a gold pinky ring. This obsession with acquiring `things' and the money that buys them, has some serious ramifications, such as fostering a self-centered and self serving attitude.

Enter the pehnomenon of free loaning. Lend out a book, an article of clothing, or a sum of money, and see how the emphasis gets taken off the thing and put on the people involved in a spirit of one human being happily helping another. You are now engaged in an interaction that is free of any hidden agenda for self-aggrandizement or profit.

The closest thing to it is the barter system which became popular in the late sixties, and still flourishes. In this system, people decide they want to reduce their reliance on money through bartering goods and services. If you need something and I need something, we might be able to make a switch.

But free loaning is something else entirely. It's when you don't take anything for what you give. You just give. That's revolutionary.

Imagine a department store unlike any you have ever encountered. It's the store of your wildest dreams, where there are no cash registers and no price tags. It suddenly appears with everything you need at no cost. Some days you're the customer, and other days you're handing out merchandise.

Suppose you're making an engagement party in your house for sixty people. You walk into the store with a shopping list in your mind of everything you need.

You: Hello... Can you help me? I need a set of dishes for sixty people, but I don't want to buy them. First of all, I don't need to own all those dishes, and also, I've got no place for them in my apartment.

Clerk: No problem. You can have the dishes for the night, and you have to pay absolutely nothing. In fact, you can choose from one of several patterns. Now, what else do you need?

You: Tables and chairs.

Clerk: Again, no problem. Just order them in the tables and chairs department. And there's another free service. They're delivered and later picked up by a free delivery service. Isn't it unbelievable?

You: I think I'll stick around in this department store and see what they have that I need for the wedding. Do you have dresses for brides, and clothing for the bridal party?

Clerk: What a question! We have a tremendous selection. Also bridal veils, white shoes and elegant evening bags. What else do you need?

You: Money.

Clerk: That's our specialty. You can have $500, $1000 and even much larger sums with easy, long term repayment plans. There's no interest charged. While you're here, I'll tell you about a few other departments. For those who would benefit from a mineral-rich mud bath treatment, there's a free loan of mud from the Dead Sea. If your food spoils on Shabbos when you can't cook more food, or extra guests suddenly show up, we can help you. Just step right over there and pick up whatever you need for you, your family, and your guests. Cholent, kugel, chicken, soda... If we have leftovers, we give them to a yeshiva the next day.

In one of our branches, a family freeloans their daily newspaper. They keep it by their gate, on a ledge under an awning, and sometimes there are four or five people at a time looking over each other's shoulders to get a glimpse of the headlines. Eventually, late in the day, the family brings the paper into the house. But in the meantime, there are several dozen people who have leafed through their newspaper.

By the way, we're always looking to open new departments. If you have any ideas, or anything that is a specialty of yours, or a dream of yours that you've always wanted to do, and you want to benefit others with it, we can open a new department immediately...

It's great shopping in this department sore. The sales people are friendly and non-coercive. They really want to help you without any strings attached. You can't remember being such a satisfied customer.

This idea of free loaning is totally counter-culture. It blows down the icons of society, because if one thinks about it, a lot of those icons have to do with money and conventions. The conventional way of behavior, whether in buying or bartering, is that you give me something and I give you something in return. Here, it's all just giving.

Free loans also break down competitiveness. They create a pure win-win situation. No more win-lose, which traditionally has been the money-oriented model of business. Everybody's happy. You're just giving from surplus, or to fill in somebody else's lack. There's no desire on your part for any kind of benefit or profit. You just want to be a giver. And that's very unconventional. In fact, it's absolutely revolutionary.


They continue:

Here, it is people and not things that matter. When the focus shifts to people, the quality of life improves dramatically. In the next chapters, we'll explore specific areas where free loaning has been applied with wonderful results, even to the point of saving people's lives. [How about the Hatzola - which is really a hero gemach in regular clothing!]

It sounds like a utopian society. Or one that exists only in the World to Come, where there isn't going to be any money and no stores, no buying and selling.

We'll see that free loaning is happening now in this world [a good deal of its pacemaking coming "from out of Zion", they point out, here in Jerusalem], and it's giving us a taste of the World to Come.

The Baal Shem Tov, King Munbaz, Yad Eliezer, Beged Yad Leyad Clothing Centers, Free Soup Kitchens, pacifier gemachs, tapes and book libraries, the adventure of the hospitality of Shabbos guests, the conventional and the non- conventional - all march through this fascinating, very readable, enjoyable and convincing little book, which can be obtained through the authors at 02-571-1895; HaAdmor MiLubavitch 23, Jerusalem, or through e-mail:

Welcome to the real Brave New World.


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