Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Av 5764 - August 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Chesed Is Also at Home

by Yochonon David

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 provocative question.

"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 else."

"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 before davening."

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 minyan."

"Of course," I answered. "I'll be very grateful to you for that."

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 mitzvah?

"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 his family.

"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 family.

"You argue that a man naturally loves his family. Then why doesn't he treat them with the same manners that he shows to any stranger?

"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.' "

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