Wednesday, September 14, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Hurricane Katrina has unleashed almost as much charity as water. In the wake of the hurricane, Americans have opened their pocketbooks and wallets, donating unprecedented sums to help fellow citizens in distress. Organizations of all stripes are falling over themselves to raise money for “New Orleans.”

There is nothing wrong with that; it is indeed commendable. But the question begs, why does it take a hurricane to recognize that people are in trouble?

The residents of New Orleans who have been displaced are predominantly poor and needy. Most of them were born into poverty and have lived their entire lives that way. They didn’t become penniless overnight. They were in dire straits for as long as anyone can remember.

In fact, so are the people who live in the majority of America’s inner cities. It’s been that way for decades. The federal government seeks to aid them through a plethora of programs, including welfare, medicare, food stamps and subsidized housing. The standard of living for many, however, remains below the poverty line.

So why does it take a hurricane for fellow citizens to recognize that these people are in need before they rush to their aid?

There are so many people in our community as well who are in dire financial straits or in need of other forms of assistance. Even people with good jobs have a hard time making ends meet. Why don’t more of us notice and try to help them?

What will it take for us to realize that many people simply cannot make ends meet? What will it take for us to shake off the emotional lethargy and start to care?

There are so many well intentioned kollel people in our neighborhoods who dedicate their best years to Torah study who do not have independent means of support. What will it take for us to recognize how vital their contribution is so that we acknowledge our debt to them and help them survive?

People are enamored by the tenacity and determination of Israel’s settlers who didn’t back down and fought the good fight before being thrown out of their homes in a misguided political move.

Why don’t we also appreciate the resolve and strength of purpose of the askanim who fight quiet lonely uphill battles to combat evil and to help people keep their heads above water?

It’s because we lose focus, we become myopic, we don’t see past our own noses. We are all immersed in our own personal nisyonos and problems and have little patience to worry about our neighbors’ woes. Our own obligations consume so much of our time and energy that we forget that there are people out there who need our help and attention. Sadly, it takes a hurricane to awaken us and force us to spend some time contemplating the needs of people outside our immediate daled amos.

As a nation of rachmonim and gomlei chasodim, we shouldn’t require a hurricane to wake us up. It shouldn’t take a disaster for the awareness to dawn that there are people silently crying out for help. We have to be attuned to those silent sobs. We have to be more cognizant of others, more kind and compassionate to our fellow Yidden.

Especially now, as we wind our way through Elul, it is imperative for us to heed the call of the hour and open our hearts to the unfortunate.

We know the operational word this month is repentance. In countless ways, we try to prove to G-d that we are indeed worthy and righteous people, deserving of a happy and healthy new year.

We look for sources of merit and increase our acts of charity and kindness. We study more Torah, learn mussar and daven with more kavana.

The mussar seforim are replete with reminders of how Hakadosh Boruch Hu treats us the way we treat others. If we are kind and compassionate to our fellow Jews, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will deal similarly with us.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah forbids a store keeper from keeping two separate weights. The posuk states that one who follows the honest practice when weighing items will merit long life.

The Berditchever Rebbe explains that when a storekeeper weighs the merchandise he is selling, he has a choice. He can weigh the scales with absolute precision or tip the scales to favor the customer, to make absolutely sure he is not being shortchanged.

If he takes the latter approach, Hashem will treat him the way he treated others and will tip the scales in his favor. If he always adds a little to the customer’s orders to make sure that he is not overcharging him, then on Judgment Day, Hashem will add a little to the side of merit to help him pass judgment.

The Gemorah in Shabbos 133b quotes Abba Shaul who derives from the posuk “zeh Keili v’anveihu” that we are commanded to emulate Hashem. “Mah Hu chanun verachum af atoh heyei chanun verachum.” Just as He is compassionate, so should we be. Just as He judges people favorably even if they lack merit, we too should find room in our hearts to help others even if they are not totally deserving.

Additionally, Rav Yisroel Salanter teaches that people should seek ways to benefit the klal. If you become a person that the klal needs, even if you are not totally worthy, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will treat you mercifully since people depend on you.

Ever since I wrote two articles last year on the topic of shidduchim, the topic has haunted me. Prior to the torrential response I received from readers, I hadn’t realized the full extent of the problem facing the Torah community and the degree of pain the subject triggers.

It is one of our most pressing problems and though it is being addressed here and there, there is much talk and little action being taken to resolve the crisis.

It is given a hearing at social events when people scramble for a topic to arouse interest and attendance. Speakers bemoan the problem yet again, and everyone commiserates, sighs, shakes their head and moves on to the next issue.

There are a few good people who take the talk seriously and channel sincere effort into making a few matches. Let’s be honest. It’s not always simple. It’s time-consuming, people are not always receptive to your suggestions, and some people even make you feel ridiculous. You easily lose steam and drop the project, hoping the problem will just go away.

But the issue is not going away anytime soon. It is a serious, mounting problem confronting everyone in our society. There is something wrong with a society which allows hundreds of girls to languish in limbo.

We have to do something about it. We can’t just relegate it to workshops and monthly meetings.

Every time people of good will discuss it they reach the same conclusions. Every one should keep a few girls in mind, they say. They should call shadchanim and friends and acquaintances and persist until they come away with some suitable shidduch suggestions.

But even this is too difficult for some people. Even when asked to call one specific person to “red” one particular boy or girl, they squirm and balk, offering all kinds of excuses.

How can we sit idly by as so many people are tormented and losing hope? How can we sleep at night if we know that there are so many out there who are lonely and despondent over their futures?

As our community grows and flourishes, new problems rise to the fore. True leadership entails meeting challenges head on and addressing them. In order to resolve the problem, we have to be honest about what we are dealing with. We have to analyze the roots of the predicament and attack the causes, not just the symptoms.

It seems that a certain source of merit before Rosh Hashanah would be to put ourselves into others’ shoes and knock the door down to help them meet their mates.


Another way to earn zechuyos is to judge others favorably, as we ourselves would like to be judged. That means avoiding snap judgments and faulting others because we don’t understand their motives.

If someone makes a mistake should we pounce on them and allow their lapse to demolish our esteem for them? No one is perfect, we are all human. In but a few weeks we will stand before the Melech Malchei Hamelochim and plead with him to look aside from our mistakes. If we are more forgiving of others, it will increase the chances that G-d will overlook our own imperfect deeds.

We have to get into the habit of looking at people with eyes of a rachum and chanun. If a child has not been accepted by any school, we should feel as if it is our child, and not just stand idly by.

If someone loses their job, we should feel as if we ourselves are out of work and do what we can to help. If someone we know is in trouble we shouldn’t just watch from a distance or make that person’s woes a conversation piece with our friends. We should pick up the phone and get involved, offering our support just as we would want someone to do for us, if we were the ones falling on hard times.

Shouldn’t an establishment which budgets hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for goods and serviced make their purchases from anshei shlomeinu? Shouldn’t we at least give them a chance to compete for our business dollars?

It may not always be as convenient and they may not always be the cheapest, but if their prices and service are comparable, shouldn’t we patronize them and help Yidden make parnossah b’derech Kavod?

This is not an advertisement for us or for our suppliers, but at the Yated, we purchase our office supplies form Fern’s Office supplies; our office machines from Fax Unlimited; our phone service is through Cucumber Communications; our graphic design is done by Dynagrafik and DC Design; we print the paper at International Newspaper; it is laid out by Sabba Printing; and so on. All of these are Jewish-owned businesses.

Just as we want people to buy our products and help us make a living, shouldn’t we extend that courtesy and kindness to others?

Whether in the realm of speech, actions or spending money, we have to look at the bigger picture when we act. We have to get into the habit of acting with others with exactly the same care and compassion with which we want Hashem to treat us.

To act as a community we have to care for each other; we have to anticipate each other’s needs. If we come together as a community and show compassion and understanding for one another, then we can hope to merit seeing the fulfillment of the words of the novi Yeshayahu in this week’s haftorah: “Ki k’isha azuvah v’atzuvas ruach kra’ach Hashem.”

As long as we are in golus, Yerushalayim is compared to a forsaken and broken-hearted bride. At the time of the redemption, the prophet says Hashem will call out to His betrothed to return to Him so that he may bless her with everlasting kindness – B’chesed olam richamtich omar goaleich Hashem. May it come true soon and in our time.

The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuva, [7, 5] that all the neviim commanded Klal Yisroel to do Teshuva. He adds that “Yisroel will only be redeemed through doing teshuva. And the Torah has already promised that in the end of days Yisroel will do teshuva and will be immediately redeemed.

Why not start now, helping to ease our friends’ pain, looking out for our neighbors and fellow Jews? Let’s try to cheer up the forlorn; restore hope to those who have lost theirs; rejuvenate those who have become bitter and depressed, and instead of being cynical and judgmental. Let’s train ourselves to be rachmanim and chanunim.

Training ourselves to think, speak and act with care and responsibility would go a long way to helping us gain a favorable verdict on the yom hadin, and to merit a shnas geulah veyeshua for ourselves and for all of Klal Yisroel.


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