Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5766 - June 21, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Salant Foundation is an educational organization devoted to making Mussar teachings available through publications, emails, and classes. Your editor subscribes to its daily messages, one of which is a Mussar Development Workshop, which I find very self-educational. I encourage readers with email (and for your information, I do NOT have access to INTERNET; it is possible), to subscribe to eMussar at

The following was a subscriber's question which I thought YATED readers would find interesting and would identify with.


Orientation: Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (1810-1883), the founder of the Mussar Movement, taught that the study of human nature, based on real-life examples, in conjunction with Mussar study, is essential to understanding — and mastering - - ourselves. In particular, he professed that it is important: (1) to observe negative character traits and inappropriate behavior (both in ourselves as well as in others), and (2) recognize the detrimental results of these flaws. The more we learn to identify human flaws and errors, the wiser will we grow in knowing which behavior and thoughts to avoid and the more we will succeed in life's endeavors. "The Inner Struggle of Giving Charity": submitted by an eMussar Subscriber, describes a struggle with tzedokah collectors who ask for more than he has given them etc.

Q. We all know from R' Yisroel's teachings how difficult it is to change one single character trait. Indeed it is! I find myself fluctuating from the extremes of generosity to stinginess and often, when I make a studied effort to be generous, it will have its repercussions in the near future. Take the matter of tzedokah. I live on a ground floor apartment with access to the street from a private entrance which is really very public. Beggars who come to a rich man in my immediate neighborhood always stop afterwards by me. That is fine. I am happy to give what I allot to every person. but when someone comes asking for a mother in Ashkelon or a friend who is sick and couldn't come that time, it gets me very upset. Or someone who says they couldn't come last week and wants double. Likewise when someone ALWAYS argues with what I give and wants double. it just ruins my mood and makes me less cordial to the next one who comes, and this can be from five to ten visits on a Thursday evening. How am I supposed to answer these people?

How am I supposed to keep my anger level down inside me? I have an ongoing struggle inside me with the thought that people are taking advantage of me and my genuine desire to help. How does Mussar deal with the Israeli concept of frier or the American loosely-connected equivalent of `sucker?' Is there such a thing as a Jewish sucker or should one give and give and give or do and do and do? How does one spring back to one's giving self after a difficult encounter?

Response 1 I'd like to share a true story that happened to me one erev Rosh Hashonoh... I was busy with preparations, and certainly didn't want to be bothered by yet another knock at my door. Yet another one came. When I opened the door, I found the beggar to be a man who could neither hear nor speak. I offered him a chair near the door, while I went to get some money and a glass of water. When I handed him the water, he gratefully took the glass from my hand, looked up toward the heavens, and in a loud voice called out the blessing for water.

Only a person who knew the brochoh could vaguely recognize the words. I answered "Amen," hiding the tears in my eyes. It reminded me of the story about the Baal Shem Tov and the boy who whistled in shul on Yom Kippur, and I know Hashem accepted every word of that brochoh with great love. I was grateful for the lesson I received Erev Rosh Hashonoh....

When people come to my door, I see it as a test of my own middos. I would rather be in my shoes than in theirs. I imagine the difficulty they must feel in having to ask for charity, and I make an effort to treat them with respect. I asked my Rov how much money is appropriate to give in these cases, and that helped me feel comfortable with giving the amounts that I give, even if the person expects more.

It is not for us to judge the shlichim who come to our doors. We can learn something from each one, and do the best we can in feeling comfortable with what we give and how we conduct ourselves.

Response 2 I would really like to thank you for sharing your description of your inner struggle while giving charity to those who ask for help at your door. I had mistakenly thought it would be easier to deal with people face to face the way you do than to receive anonymous phone calls from agencies asking for help or passive requests from people in our city who stand on the sidewalk with a hat in their hands. But I can see it would be even more difficult to receive people at my door the way you do so often. You are amazing in so many ways: for being able to give in this way so often, for being so aware of your own emotions and intentions while doing so, and for striving to be as pure as possible in the process. In Pirkei Ovos we learn that one of the many benefits of giving charity is to show compassion to a poor person so they feel less angry at Hashem for their situation. It is understandable that your anger may sometimes rise in the process, but I hope you can feel some sense of comfort that overall, anger at Hashem decreases due to your generosity.

When I passed a man on the street yesterday standing with his hat in his hand, I thought of your inner struggles with charity. On the way back, I passed the man again and there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I should take a one dollar coin from my wallet (just one, so I will find it easier to give again in future) and put it in his empty hat. There was a simple nod of "thank you" from him and "you're welcome" from me, as well as an awesome sense of connection with this person in need. I felt different for having given in this way. And it is because of you and Hashem!

Response 3 Good topic. I despise the concept of "frier," which I've only encountered in Israel. It's important to know your limits and act within them (or beyond them, if you so decide.) Then it is you deciding what you can and cannot do, rather than letting yourself be defined by others.

One man's "frier" is another man's "tzadik."

Response 4 I think we all experience the dichotomy of what the writer describes; it's the ongoing battle between the yetzer tov and the yetzer ra and the difficulty we often have distinguishing between them. Jewish Law has very clear guidelines about giving charity: how much to give, when to give, how to give and to whom to give.

Studying these laws makes it less of an emotional issue. The Chofetz Chaim taught that the greater amount of times one gives, the bigger the mitzvah because it conditions us to be more generous.

In other words, it's better to give one dollar to a hundred people than $100 to one. A person certainly has the right to decide, within the halachic guidelines, to whom to give and how much. It is certainly his prerogative and an expression of who he is and what he values. Of course it's the prerogative of the beggar to try and get as much as he can. After all, begging is his business and he's just trying to be a good businessman.

So to keep this relationship "friendly," I would suggest studying the laws of tzedokah, making an a priori decision to whom to give, all things being equal, and how much, and to view the whole transaction from an objective, non-emotional viewpoint. Also remember, that the harder it is to give, the greater the reward, for everyone concerned.

Response 5 Perhaps you could be grateful for being on the giving end and not think of others as "beggars." You might consider "giving" a smile, a brochoh, a good deed, your time. Heaven will give you credit that you "gave" in various ways. Hope this helps. Thanks! —

Response 6 I am reminded of the response a friend of mine once gave to a man who was complaining that her contribution was not sufficient and that he needed more. My friend very sweetly faced the man and said gently, "If this is not okay for you, I will be happy to take it back." As you can imagine, the man grabbed the money and quickly left.

You ask 2 questions: How am I supposed to answer these people? and How am I supposed to keep my anger level down inside me? The above example might give you a model for how to respond to these types of annoying/inappropriate requests. Re: The second question on anger.. here are some thoughts to consider: People don't always behave with consideration or sensitivity. It would be nice if they did, but that is not the way people are. Therefore, when confronted with someone who asks for double, or asks for someone else, or tells you your contribution is not sufficient, remind yourself that humans have a tendency to sometimes be rude and insensitive... and that when faced with such a situation, you have every right to decide to say, "No, I can't do that," or "That doesn't work for me," or something similar that sounds right to you.

Remember that charity begins at home and only you know how much you can comfortably afford to give. Just because someone asks, it doesn't mean that you have to oblige. If you keep this in mind, you will more likely remember that you have options. When you are less reactive to other people, you will be more able to assess how you want to respond.

To be less reactive, don't insist that others be different. Accept people they way they are, even if you would wish or prefer them to be otherwise! Say to yourself strongly, "That's the way they are ... tough! I don't like it, but I can tolerate it and put up with what I don't like!!!" You may need to repeat this to yourself many times until it really sinks in! Once it does, you will probably find you can handle these situations better and more easily be aware that you have options as to how you can respond.

Response 7 Let us, instead of discussing the beggars, talk about you. According to your letter, these five — ten people come to you quite regularly. Have you a chance to ask their names and listen to their stories?

It seems to me it would be even a greater mitzvah if, besides giving the money, talk to everyone even for a few minutes. Then maybe before the person asks for the double portion as he/she skipped the previous week, you would ask why the person did not show up last week.

It is not our duty to judge these people or to question how they spend the money. The Torah only requires that we be kindly and help them. Try to think how lucky you are that, thank G-d, you are in a position to give money to the needy; it is up to you to be nice and kind to them.

Response 8 I can't answer all those issues but one thing I've done is to make a decision how much I can give that week, divide it up as best I can in equal amounts and then put it into individual envelopes. That way I don't get an argument about how much money I'm giving, I just hand over the envelope. Also, if I find myself getting annoyed at the person's attitude, I try to stop and thank Hashem that I am the giver and not the taker.

Response 9 I heard an interesting/funny idea from Rabbi Orlafsky— he was teaching about Judaism in English to a group of Israelis. When he tried to explain that G-d created the universe gratuitously, he caused a stir. No one understood what "gratuitous" meant. The Rabbi explained that it meant G-d created the universe for us, not for Him. It was an act of kindness without an expectation of reward. "Oh," answered one Israeli, "you mean frier. "Yes," answered Rabbi Orlafsky, "G-d is the Ultimate frier." Our Sages say that to improve on a trait, one way is to study about that trait. I recommend the Chofetz Chaim Center — which has a free phone line, books and tapes about kindness. Also, I have gone through the Chofetz Chaim's Ahavas Chessed—a book that has truly changed my life and perspective on giving and kindness. Also studying Chassidic and mystical writings about kindness will help you.

Response 10 I have been refining my personal concepts of tzedokah and kavonoh for many years, especially during the past 15+, wherein I have cooked for and fed 200 homeless people each week. My fluctuation between generosity and stinginess used to plague me and I offer the following insights:

I am human....and I have my limits. When I donate blood, I cannot give too much....or risk jeopardizing my own health. Therefore, I can appropriately create boundaries to keep my emotional health balanced when a street friend asks either for more than his share....or more than I am willing to give at that moment. Also, I generally only give food and clothing, etc. on my regular trips, and decline requests for money saying, "I only have food to provide today." Only Hashem is limitless — we are not.

On days other than my regular feedings on the streets, when someone asks for money.....I make my decision based upon whether my heart is moved (within my obligation to perform tzedokah).....not if I judge the person to be truthful or 'worthy.' It is the other person's responsibility to his own conscience whether he is both fair and truthful.

Whenever I feel stingy, I see this as an opportunity to search for reasons for dimming the Divine spirit within me — perhaps my own feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy or low self-esteem?

[Ed. Do our readers have anything to add? Send to me, directly at or to emussar,]


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