When I left my house today to daven Minchah, I met R'
Yehuda Koltzedek on the stairs. He too was on his way to
shul. R' Yehuda is the type of Jew who is always
overflowing with a wealth of Torah. One can regularly hear
from him interesting explanations on the weekly
parsha, inspiring anecdotes, and even halochos
that people are unaware of or are not meticulous in carrying
out. I decided to open a discussion with him by asking him a
"R' Yehuda, I was surprised to see you bringing out the
garbage early in the morning. It was not even six o'clock
then. What's going on? Don't you have anybody who can get rid
of the garbage for you? It isn't fitting for a respectable
person like you to deal with such things!"
Koltzedek smiled back at me sheepishly as if he had been
caught doing something he did not want to be known. He
answered: "You're right, I was taking out the garbage this
morning. It was a mitzvah, you see, so it was preferable for
me to do it myself rather than handing it over to someone
"A mitzvah? Amazing! What kind of mitzvah is there in taking
out the garbage? I'll tell you the truth; I also wondered
where you found a heter to take care of such things
R' Yehuda waited a while silently, as if hesitant about
whether to divulge his thoughts and motives to me. But then
he reconsidered and started explaining:
"The fact is that my wife is extremely sensitive to foul
smells. Last night she was preparing the fish for the Shabbos
meals until very late. That includes, of course, cleaning
them and removing their innards. After a hot and humid summer
night, fish guts and refuse are liable to emit a repugnant
smell. I don't, choliloh, want my wife to get up in
the morning and have to bear such offensive smells. So I took
care of the garbage promptly even before she got up. Don't
you think that pleasing someone is an immense mitzvah?"
I smiled after hearing my neighbor's fascinating explanation,
but my yetzer drove me to try to shatter it:
"I'm really surprised at you, R' Yehuda. Taking out garbage
is one of your household needs; how can you transform it into
a mitzvah? In a little while, you'll tell me that since your
wife enjoys seeing you eat, therefore your eating is also a
mitzvah . . . and you have resolved to clean out your
apartment even before davening?"
R' Yehuda stopped walking and an expression of disappointment
was evident on his face. "My dear young friend," he said to
me. "It would be a good idea for you to devote time to
attaining some basic knowledge of Judaism's ethical
perspectives. If you agree, we would be able to talk about it
a little and we can daven Minchah in the second
"Of course," I answered. "I'll be very grateful to you for
We sat down on one of the benches in the back of the
shul and Koltzedek commenced:
"In his Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech reveals to us an easy
and simple way to climb to the spiritual level of beholding
Hashem's presence. `And I with righteousness will behold Your
Presence; I will be sated as I awake with Your Image'
(Tehillim 17:15). Do you understand what is going on
here? To behold Hashem's Presence is the elevated aspiration
of prophets. To be `sated with the view of Hashem's Image'
reminds us of `And he will behold Hashem's Image'
(Bamidbar 12:8), which was said of Moshe Rabbenu.
"How can we attain such a level? Chazal, guided by
this revelation of our holy King Dovid, expound to us that,
`A person who gives a small coin to a poor person is
privileged to welcome the Heavenly Presence' (Bovo
Basra 10a). Doesn't that excite you?"
"Perhaps that gemora refers to Olom Habo," I
answered callously, "that we will see the Heavenly Presence
in the Next World."
"Most commentaries in fact explain that this wonderful reward
will be given in Olom Habo," he answered. "However, to
gain such a lofty level then, one must give a prutoh
now and do tzedokoh in this mundane world.
Furthermore, according to the posuk's guidance, first,
`I with righteousness' -- give tzedokoh -- and only
afterwards `will behold Your Presence' -- then I will stand
before Hashem. Jews are accustomed to give charity to a poor
person before davening. This virtuous act of giving
tzedokoh before davening is also mentioned in
Shulchan Oruch (92:6, see Mishnah Berurah).
This is a preparation for praying Shemoneh Esrei,
perhaps similar to saying Pesukei Dezimroh."
"I understand now," I remarked, "why some Jews go over to the
tzedokoh box during Pesukei Dezimroh and toss
in some money when they reach, `Wealth and honor come from
You' (". . . veho'osher vehakovod Milefonecho," see
Pri Megodim, ibid.). By doing so they are fulfilling
the custom of giving tzedokoh before Shemoneh
Esrei, and also they tangibly show their faith that all
wealth and honor are derived from Hashem. So they are
fulfilling His will with this money. I understand all this
perfectly, but what in the world does this have to do with
taking out the garbage?"
"Nu," Koltzedek continued, "now picture that instead of
donating a few cents for tzedokoh near the end of
Pesukei Dezimroh, I went to a solitary elderly
invalid's house and brought him bread and milk and swept out
his room -- all before davening. If people found out
about this, they would write inspiring stories about it to
teach other people a lesson of correct behavior. Everyone
would laud this wonderful act.
"Now, please tell me, why does it disturb you that I do the
same thing for a member of my family? Where is it written
that the mitzvah of tzedokoh must be done only for
strangers? Where is it written that the same meritorious
deed, when done for a family member, is not considered a
"My Rebbe, R' Eizik zt'l, taught us that when he
poured a cup of coffee for his wife in the morning before
davening he was fulfilling lemehadrin the
Shulchan Oruch's recommendation to do tzedokoh
before davening. That's the way he behaved even when
he approached his eighties.
"I," R' Yehuda continued his discourse, "following his
example, decided to adopt a fixed custom. Every morning
before I leave my house for shul I look around the
house and think: `What good deed can I do for someone else?'
Sometimes in the winter I tuck the blanket in around a child;
sometimes I place the kettle on the stove over a low fire, so
that when my wife rises she will find hot water ready.
Occasionally, like today, when the garbage can is full, I
empty it. All this is done in order to bring pleasure to my
family and to do tzedokoh before davening."
"I am really surprised," I said. "When I love my family I am
fulfilling ahavas Yisroel? When I take care of their
needs and assist them I am fulfilling the mitzvah of
tzedokoh? After all, they are my wife and children.
It's only natural to help them, not a mitzvah."
"But Chazal maintain differently. In Kiddushin (41a)
the gemora rules that the `neighbor' mentioned in `you
shall love your neighbor as yourself' (Vayikra 19:18)
refers to one's own wife. Chesed is chesed,
according to our Sages, no less when done for one's wife,
even though, `One's wife is like one's own self'
(Menochos 93b). It is possible that our difficulty in
seeing this point is connected with the intent that must
accompany our acts of mitzvah. If a person does a beneficial
act for someone merely because of natural feelings, with no
intent to fulfill a mitzvah, then this is just a natural act
resulting from a person's feelings. However, if one also has
the express intention to fulfill with this act the mitzvah of
helping another person, the value of the mitzvah is not
lessened because the other person happens to be a member of
"My Rebbe zt'l would sit with his wife when she ate
supper, although he did not eat then. He knew that it was
more pleasant for her to eat when he sat with her at the
table. His act was not just the result of human feelings. No,
it was the way he always acted when practicing hospitality
with guests. Wouldn't he do so with a guest, a stranger, to
prevent his having any unpleasant feelings? Wasn't it good
manners to make someone feel better when eating his meal, to
show that you value him? Why should my wife, he thought, be
worse than any common guest? When someone is your son,
daughter, or wife, they are still people for whom you are
obligated to do chesed. All this my Rebbe, R' Eizik
zt'l taught me.
"My dear friend, the reason for your confusion is simple.
Unfortunately, nowadays a person often allows himself to
consider his family members as less than an ordinary person
on the street. What he would not dare say to any stranger, he
would unhesitatingly and openly say to someone in his
"You argue that a man naturally loves his family. Then why
doesn't he treat them with the same manners that he shows to
"The Torah teaches us that all the mitzvos that apply between
people are no less relevant to a beloved family member.
Family members do not, choliloh, lose out because of
the Torah's moral provisions. On the contrary; those who do
acts of kindness with their family are lifted to the majestic
level of `I with righteousness will behold Your Presence.'