פתח תפתח את ידך לאחיך לעניך ולאבינך בארצך
“Open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to the needy in your land.”
A Story of the Chafetz Chaim
Paraphrased from “Love Your Neighbor” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, pp. 302-303.
When he was a young man, Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim) would often sleep in the beit midrash following his long hours of learning. To provide him with a modicum of comfort, his mother gave him one of their few possessions: a pillow. One day, his mother asked him to bring the pillow home so that she could wash it. The young Chofetz Chaim told her not to bother since it was already washed.
A short time later it became known that the maid of a local resident had married a very poor young man. In order to help set up their meager home, the Chofetz Chaim had given the couple his only pillow.
Lessons from the story:
- We learn from this story that the Chofetz Chaim was unusually devoted to the performance of acts of chesed—to the extent that he gave away the only meaningful item of comfort he possessed.
- We learn also that he would go to great lengths to avoid doing anything that would upset his mother.
- Most importantly, it would seem that the genuine joy of performing the mitzvah of הכנסת כלה—providing for the bride—meant more to him than his own physical comfort.
Learning to Apply Step #4 In School and Beyond
Step #4 represents the only concrete and hands-on step on our road toward “mentschhood.” It provides children with a tangible opportunity to engage in a limitless number of actions they may undertake on behalf of others. It is hoped that through these activities, the practice of tzedaka and chesed will become second nature to our children. The key is the physical engagement on the part of the child.
There is no tzedaka or chesed activity that is as meaningful as the ones we do with our own hands and even more so for those that we encourage others to participate in.
Tzedaka And Chesed at School
It is a pleasure to note that these days our yeshivot offer students a myriad of opportunities to perform Step #4. There is a preponderance of collections, drives and campaigns, all aimed at providing the students with personal, hands-on experiences. (Many have been featured in The Jewish Link.)
In addition to setting a good example for their children and encouraging their participation in these events, parents can have a very meaningful role in the school’s tzedaka and chesed programs. Here are a few:
- suggest various causes and potential recipients to the school administration
- volunteer to help with the school’s various campaigns and drives (this might include some of the difficult tasks associated with pick-ups and deliveries)
- offer to join forces with the PTA or a parent group to work closely with the administration to recommend and organize special events. Some yeshivot have a chesed committee or a chevrat chesed.
It is very important for parents and school officials to maintain the hands-on, personal nature of these endeavors. While it is perfectly fine for children to bring tzedaka money to school, it is more meaningful when they perform tasks that are more personal and can actually be life-altering. As we often hear from students and adults alike, while they often don’t remember much of the academic work they were taught in elementary school, many of the special projects and activities they participated in will never be forgotten.
Some Suggestions for Parents Inside and Outside School
(Where age appropriate)
- Nursing home visits where the children interact with the residents (This should not be the case when the residents are ill or too enfeebled to respond.)
- Packing and delivering food for Tomchei Shabbos
- Bringing toys and other gifts to hospitals
- Serving the poor in a soup kitchen
- Volunteering to help children of parents who are ill or unable to adequately care for the family
The possibilities for tzedaka and chesed activities outside the home and school are limited only by the dedication and imagination of the parents and children. The most important factor leading to success is the role-modeling of the parents. Once children see that engaging in acts of tzedaka and chesed are a normal and regular part of their parents’ lives, they are likely to adopt the same habits. It is also very helpful for parents to include their children in the planning of their joint enterprises.
A Noteworthy Idea: Birthdays and Chesed
Over the past few years, several initiatives have been introduced to merge birthday celebrations with acts of tzedaka and chesed. Among them are the following:
- Having a child choose one of his birthday gifts and donate it to a worthy recipient
- Asking guests to forgo a usual birthday gift in favor of making a donation to a favorite charity
- “Twinning” with a child of the same age and sharing presents with him
There have been frequent stories over the years of children who have selflessly donated all or a portion of their bar/bat mitzvah gifts. Not long ago, a young man raised $18,000 in lieu of bar mitzvah gifts for a worthy charity in Israel.
Parents take note: If you train your children to look for opportunities to practice tzedaka and chesed, sit back and enjoy! You will be amazed at the results.
Stanley Fischman is currently the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was a yeshiva elementary principal for 35 years and also served as director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. Recently he celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood—How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”