Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 25 July 2008

The Knock at the Door

Those of us with the misfortune to live in Golus know what that knock at the door means. It's yet another group of meshulachim from Israel requesting money for a variety of causes. In larger communities, I understand that it's possible to get over a dozen on a sunny Sunday and almost as many in the course of any given week. Fortunately, I live in a small community so we don't see them on a regular basis but rather they come in spurts.
The other advantage of being off the beaten track is that only those who are passionate about their need for collection tzedakah will make the trip out to our community. This means having to deal with far less than folks in the larger community next door (something I occasionally use as a selling point when trying to convince people to move here).
Ah, but you may be asking: why am I portraying these men in a negative light? After all, Chazal tell us that more than the giver does for the taker, the taker does for the giver because of the greatness of the mitzvah of tzedakah that he earns. And this is quite true.
In truth, I have no problem with helping needy causes. I recognize that God has been quite generous and kind with me, far more than my personal performance of miztvos and chesed could ever come close to justifying. One of the prominent commentators on the Aseres Hadibros notes that the underlying reason for the commandment to not envy thine neighbour is because one must always remember that what one has came from God and that therefore one shouldn't try to decide how things should be apportioned in this world. If a man comes to my door with an outstretched hand, should I not see this as an opportunity sent by God? This man's money is in my possession and God gave it to me to give to him so that He could also give me the opportunity of helping my fellow. In this light, these meshulachim should be treasured.
Then there's the educational value. Imagine one's children watching you give tzedakah and treating total strangers with respect. If one wishes to inculcate one's children with the importance of ahavas Yisrael, is there a better way to do it?
So why is it that when I hear the knock at the door my shoulders sag and my lips mutter "not again"?
Perhaps it is my own personal arrogance but I also believe that beggars cannot be choosers, as the old adage goes. I am happy to give generously if need be but I expect that whatever I hand out will be taken with at least a slight smile and "thank you".
Last night, though, that didn't happen. We had three guests from Israel at the door. The first came with a very efficient presentation, had his request all organized and was effusive in his thanks when I handed him the cheque. The second, however, caused me to nearly lose my temper. He was collecting for a Bratzlover yeshiva in the Old City and when I gave him the cheque, he looked at it and announced that if I were only to double the amount, then I would get a blessing from Heaven. My donation to his cause was too small for a blessing?! And when I refused, he continued to argue with me, pointing out how much to my benefit my generosity would be. I noted that the local community also has great needs and I have to think of them first. He pointed out that he had come a long way. I pointed out that I hadn't actually invited him in the first place! Finally, after five minutes of argument he grudgingly took the cheque and left.
Then came the third man who got angry with the amount I gave him (not a small amount). He had been expecting more and seemed to be outraged that he hadn't received it. By this point, I was tired of the whole encounter and told him in no uncertain terms to leave before I took the cheque back and sent him away with nothing.
And today I remain confused. On one hand, I am happy to give. On the other, these people clearly have legitimate needs. Who am I to say no to them? On what authority do I do that? Is there still a blessing on such tzedakah?


Nishma said...

As on who lives on the other side of the fence -- the Director of a Torah organization and as such, albeit poorly (not pun intended) involved in fundraising -- I feel I must comment on your words - but not as you may expect. While Hashem may have given you the funds to distribute on His behalf to less fortunate individuals and to Torah causes (and other needs within both the Jewish and general community), the point still is that Hashem has given it to you, has entrusted you with this responsibility and the decision making that goes with these decisions. The Halacha does give some guidelines, of course, but it is your decision -- and as we see in the case of such things as teruma, there may even be a monetary value to be assigned to this responsibility and, yes, power. In how you give tzedaka, you are making a decision on the future of the Jewish people, on what you think should be and occur within our nation. It is wrong, in my opinion, for someone to abrogate this right, take it irresponsibly and/or not recognize that they must use their heads in making these decisions.

The key is to understand that there always is $150 of good needs and you only have $100 to give. As I said, I am not a good fundraiser because when I speak to someone I recognize that my cause is not the only cause and that he has a most difficult decision to make in deciding how to distribute his tzedakah funds -- but I still believe that is the correct Torah thought process. I do not think that there is anything wrong, of course, for a meshullach to try and influence your decision by arguing the merits of his/her cause -- that is what he/she should do. But there should be respect for your decision -- and if there isn't, why are you giving to this cause that doesn't teach this important Torah value? Obviously this person may still disagree with your decision and still maintain that his/her cause should be more significant for you, but to not see you as one making a decision, in not respecting you in this regard as he/she approaches you for funds, there is a problem. When a person says that with doubling your donation you will get a blessing -- that is fundamentally problematic. If he is saying that he will give you a blessing based on the amount of the donation, then he is selling his blessing -- your question can then be, is it worth the price? If he is assuring you that Hashem will bless you because of the increased donation, then who made this person a navi? Maybe what Hashem really wants you to do is to give more to another cause and that even the donation you gave was too much -- afterall this person's behaviour would seem to be evidence not to support his cause? It is not just the fact that people must give, be baalei chesed, that you have to teach your children. They must also learn that this is an important DECISION and how one distributes his tzedakah is most important and demands thought for it is thereby that you affect the world -- and it is thus necessary to also teach your children that when a meshullach acts in a manner that is contraty to menshlikeit, to standards of Torah, that ignores you as a decision maker, that meshullach should be responded to appropriately with a critique of his/her behaviour, without anger but with mussar. Your anger made it seem that it was personal. It wasn't. Your anger reflected a sad weakness in the Torah of our age.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

PS As I said, I am an awful fundraiser. Her I am talking tzedaka and not mentioning my cause, which I obviously think is important. So I should say that for anyone who would like to help out Nishma, they can donate on line at our website,, or can send a donation to our Canadian or American office as appropriate -- the address is also on the stie. First, though, check out our website and our blog, to see what it is we do. Then, hopefully with a recognition of the importance of the work that we do, you will want to support us.

JJ said...

The other questions is how to feel about the fact that 20-30% of your donation goes to some guy who drives these individuals to your house...should our attitude be "Well, I am mefarnes another Jew" or "Get a real job?"

arnie draiman said...

not so simple....the meshulach is not what chazal had in mind when they said "Chazal tell us that more than the giver does for the taker, the taker does for the giver because of the greatness of the mitzvah of tzedakah that he earns.".

they meant the person in need him/herself.

and, you can never be too careful giving away your tzedakah money. giving it to a person who takes a hefty percentage from it before it gets to the person in need is hardly a worthy act...

be careful!

check out:


arnie draiman

Anonymous said...

As somebody who lives in Israel I can tell you that we are not immune from knocks on the door :)

We have a few regulars.

SJ said...

read my blog XD

SJ said...

no new material? O.o