July 17, 2024
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‘Living Chessed’ Brings Chesed Into Our Everyday Lives


Excerpting: “Living Chessed,” By Avrohom Asher Makovsky. Mesorah Publications Ltd. 2023. Hardcover. 343 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422632864.

(Courtesy of Artscroll) Chesed. It’s in your hands. (And in your smile. And mouth. And feet. And in countless other ways.) From the Talmud to the Rambam to the Chofetz Chaim—and many other Torah sources—we learn how to deal with even the most challenging and turbulent times: la’asok b’Torah v’chessed. To busy ourselves with Torah learning and performing acts of chesed, kindness to others.

Of course, we all try to be “nice” to others, but to fill our days and nights with chesed? Many of us imagine that to be the task of the great men and women who head up the organizations, create the gemachs, raise the millions to feed and clothe the impoverished. But while that is certainly vital, a new scintillating book, “Living Chesed,” shows us how we “ordinary” people can also be “gedolim in chesed”—just by grabbing the countless opportunities to help our fellow Jews.

In “Living Chesed,” Rabbi Avrohom Asher Makovsky shares with us many Torah sources that talk about chesed, inspirational insights and guidance and, above all, stories of how chesed—even something as small as a compliment, a smile or a hug—can transform the lives of both the one giving and the one receiving the chesed. In brief, readable chapters, we will discover the best segulah of all—not hurting someone’s feelings. We will read about how the Tzemach Tzedek “opened” the gates of heaven—by racing home to help another Jew in business. How a man fulfilled his dream of having children by opening a free-loan gemach. We will enjoy—and learn from—story after story of people who took the opportunity to help someone, often with something as simple as a compliment or even just a smile.

“Living Chesed” will show us how we can, indeed, “live chesed” throughout our days, enriching the lives of others. And enriching our own lives as well.

The following is an excerpt from the new book:

• • • •
The Top of the List
Tax time came around and the Reiners brought their bundles of documents to their accountant.

“How much are you claiming in charitable deductions?” he asked. They named a number.

“But it’s really at least twice that,” said Mr. Reiner, “because we paid for overnight camp for my sister’s three boys and gave my brother-in-law $8,000 toward his daughter’s wedding. We also pay for an aide for my mother. Can we get deductions for this stuff?”

“Well, no, the government doesn’t count that kind of thing. You have to have a receipt from an official non-profit organization,” the accountant explained. “Sorry.”

The IRS may not recognize contributions we give to family members, but to Hashem, they are considered tzedakah of the highest quality. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3) specifies that we are obligated to give to our relatives before anyone else, including neighbors, the poor of our town, the poor of Eretz Yisrael, community organizations, yeshivos and kolelim. Parents in need of support are at the top of the list. After that come married children, and after

that, brothers and sisters.

But when people want to give tzedakah and feel that they are givers, this is not the direction in which they tend to direct their eyes. Many of us are more motivated to give to the yeshivah building campaign or one of the many excellent chesed organizations in the community.

We want the people raising the money to see us as supporters, both for altruistic reasons and for the status it gives us.

Sometimes, we dig into our pockets for a fundraising campaign just because there’s a Chinese auction or raffle involved. We’re willing to shell out more than we might normally give because we’re enticed by the prizes. Succos in Eretz Yisrael! Isn’t that worth a $100 chance?

We may also favor official charities because—as our opening scenario points out—the donations are tax-deductible.

Sadly, our relatives aren’t likely to create a non-profit organization, or send us a shiny brochure or set up an interactive website to solicit our help. They are more likely to suffer in silence, wishing someone would notice, but ashamed to disclose their situation. We won’t enhance our status in the community when we write them a check. Nor will we purchase for ourselves a chance at a new bedroom set or Pesach in Switzerland. Our relatives won’t display a plaque on their living room wall to honor us. They might not even thank us in a way we consider adequate. However, none of this should stand in the way of giving to those whom the Torah deems to be at the top of our list.

There’s a well-known story about the Klausenberger Rebbe, which makes this point clearly: The rebbe once made an appointment with one of his chassidim—a wealthy diamond dealer—at the chassid’s office in the diamond district in Manhattan. When he arrived, he informed the chassid of the dire situation of one of the families in the kehillah and asked for a donation. The chassid was ready with a $1,000 check. He only needed to know to whom it should be payable. The rebbe answered, “Make it out to your brother.”

The life of a frum family has become very expensive; we seem to be living on open miracles as we raise large families and pay for their schooling, dignified clothing, day camps, overnight camps, weekly Shabbos feasts, Yamim Tovim, Chol Hamoed trips, simchas, health insurance, car expenses and rent or mortgage for comfortable living quarters—we could go on and on. While it’s possible to simplify or do without in some areas, in many areas, it is not a reasonable option.

We may not understand why matters have to be this way, but we can clearly see that the situation has opened 1000s of opportunities for us to think about our family members, consider what their life might be like and look for ways to help. Our expensive lifestyle carries with it an ocean of potential zechus.

Sometimes, the need is obvious. If a whole family of children are “doing camp Mommy” for the summer—unless this is something they do on principle—we can assume they’re short of camp money. If children are sitting home after the school year has begun, we can assume they haven’t paid off last year’s tuition. As we mentioned earlier, if we begin seeing signs of friction in an otherwise happy marriage, we can suspect that financial strain might be behind it. If our elderly parents’ housekeeping or personal hygiene is beginning to deteriorate, we can assume they need some help.

The next question is who can help and how can they do so without embarrassing the recipient. Obviously, family members who are well-off financially are the ideal source of help. If they don’t notice the need, those who do notice can inform them. Newly-married couples who are not yet carrying the load of large families might also have maaser that could make a big difference. If siblings don’t want to be in a position of offering a sister or brother money, they can give the money to their parents and ask them to pass it along in their own name. Most children accept money from their parents or in-laws without embarrassment. There’s nothing demeaning about saying, “Zeidy and Bubby want to treat the kids to camp this summer.” With a little empathy, a little curiosity and some sensitivity, we can fulfill the halacha that obligates us to give tzedakah first to our relatives in need. In doing so, we make life better for the people we love.

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