Thursday, March 12, 2009

Post Purim

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim this year was unlike any in recent memory. Every year, I spend my night raising money for one particular cause or another. This year was the worst ever. I felt so futile. I felt as if I was wasting my time. I felt cheapened, abused and plain old embarrassed. I felt like a shnorrer. I felt the pain that people who are forced to raise money for themselves or for their institutions feel. I felt hurt.

No one who Hakadosh Boruch Hu has decided must raise money should be forced to have that feeling. It was a very good lesson to feel what others do when they solicit money for any good cause.

There was one special individual I went to see. He stands on his feet for hours every Purim night and dispenses generous donations to hundreds of people. He stands so that he can feel a certain degree of the pain of those who stand in line waiting to see him.

Purim is a remarkable day of celebration. Jews of all stripes join together and exchange greetings, gifts, snacks, drinks and much more. Purim is a bubble in our fast-paced lives. Everything serious stops as we devote the day to celebrating our very existence.

Purim has also become a day of massive fundraising. It seems as if every male age ten and above is out collecting for something. Some of the bochurim are quite entertaining and there is a special geshmak in meeting and speaking to intelligent, insightful and learned bochurim and hear what they have to say and how they think. Spending time with them brings me back to my youth in a certain way that doesn’t happen throughout the year. The problem is that, invariably, a loud immature group comes crashing through the door and harasses you until you satisfy their financial demands.

The point of this article is not to decry the behavior of individuals, but rather to look at the larger picture and to gain an appreciation for what is transpiring around us. Young people are learning what it means to be noseh b’ol to help others. Yidden are responding in kind and aiding institutions and those who are struggling to survive and hold their heads above water.

It is crushing to see how many people are struggling and how deeply our community has been affected by the economic downturn. Many people simply fled their homes for Purim or closed their lights and didn’t open the door for anyone. Most of those who were more courageous greatly cut their donations.

We have to feel the pain of people who are struggling to make ends meet during these times. We have to support those who have lost their jobs, fortunes, businesses and/or life savings. It is not a cliché to say that too many people are hurting. Families that were formerly blessed with handsome salaries and upper-class lifestyles don’t know how they will be able to make their next utility bill payment.

It’s easy to say that we have to feel their pain and do what we can to help them. It’s a lot easier said than done. Perhaps we should put ourselves in their shoes and knock on the doors of people who we know can afford to help out the less fortunate. We can raise money for people who have lost everything but their pride and help them restore their lives. Every little bit helps and it shows our friends that we care enough about them to do something.

Raising money is something that no one enjoys doing. It can be demeaning and grueling, but there is no other way to keep our mosdos alive and our friends in their homes.

I remember going to see people with Rav Elya Svei shlit”a on behalf of the Philadelphia Yeshiva. He was my rebbi and I revered him. At one home, we were treated so poorly that I walked out of there in tears and thought I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t bear seeing my rebbi abused. The shame and embarrassment were just too much for me.

Rav Elya turned to me and said, “Es iz gornisht. You can’t let it bother you. This is the way Torah is built. This is the way the Ponovezher Rov did it. This is how the rosh yeshiva [Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l] did it. Let’s go on to the next name on the list.”

His words echoed in my ears as I said to my dear friend, with whom I go out every Purim night, that I couldn’t take it anymore and couldn’t go on. He convinced me that bizyonos is a good thing, and we persevered, though we raised considerably less than we have in any of the years that we have been going around together.

A few weeks ago, I studied a shiur on teshuvah with Rav Elazar Kenig from Tzefas. He discussed the idea that a main part of repentance is accepting humiliation with acquiescence. Our obligation in this world is to be marbeh kevod Shomayim. In order to accomplish that, we have to recognize our proper place in this world. The less honor we seek for ourselves, the more honor we transfer to the One Who created and sustains us. When we sin, we cause dishonor to Hashem, for when we disobey his commandments, it is as if we are saying that we don’t recognize His beneficence.

It is not easy, but we have to be prepared to accept discomfort in order to succeed in our mission on Earth. Humility is a good virtue, and if we attain it while trying to help out other people, it is an even greater virtue.

We have to be thankful that we can help others, that we can somehow make ends meet, and that we have friends and family who care about us. Noseh b’ol im chaveiro means to put yourself in their shoes and to let them know that you share their pain. It’s not enough to sit in your comfortable corner and say that you feel bad for them. We have to do whatever we can to help out, even if that means suffering humiliation.

If we do what we can to be marbeh kevod Shomayim, if we are dan struggling people lekaf zechus and are noseh b’ol, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will take notice and have mercy on us as he did during the times of Shushan. He will right the wrongs, set straight the ship of state and send us the geulah, bimeheirah beyomeinu.


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