Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What’s That Envelope For?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Pesach is in the air. The stores are packed with shoppers buying everything from fish to shoes lekavod Yom Tov. Bochurim are home from yeshiva, giving the home, shul and street a different look.

Reminders confront us from all sides about the impending Zeman Cheiruseinu. Shloshim yom kodem hachag, thirty days before the holiday, we are told, we must begin reviewing the intricate laws of the Yom Tov. We have Parshas Parah to remind us to purify ourselves in preparation for the korban. This past Shabbos, Parshas Hachodesh reminded us that Chodesh Nissan is about to arrive.

Unlike the other major holidays of Sukkos and Shavuos, Pesach demands a heightened degree of preparation. The home is spotlessly cleaned, matzos must be baked, special foods have to be purchased, a whole different menu is prepared, and on and on. The hachanos are especially taxing. For weeks, the noshim tzidkaniyos work themselves to the point of exhaustion making sure that everything is perfectly in order in time for the seder.

When it comes to “bringing in Pesach,” family members have to be careful to share in what can be an overwhelming task if shouldered alone. At no other time of the year is cooperation so vital.

This spirit of cooperation that marks Pesach preparation has its parallel in one of the core elements of Yetzias Mitzrayim - our transformation into a cohesive nation, a family unit on a national scale.

We went from being slaves scattered around Mitzrayim to becoming an organized community of bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. A community is defined as a group of people with common interests joining together to contribute towards the public good. When each person cares only about himself and what is good for him, the community suffers. In a community, everyone sacrifices a bit for the common welfare.

And so it is on Pesach. Perhaps this is the reason that the Rama begins Hilchos Pesach with the minhag of maos chittin, obligating all Jews to help those less fortunate who can not afford to make Yom Tov.

We demonstrate to what extent we are part of the greater Jewish community by the way we respond to appeals and come to the aid of those who have difficulty meeting Yom Tov expenses.

For the past several years, together with my dear friend Reb Yossel Czapnik, I have been inserting an envelope into the Yated before Pesach on behalf of Keren Hachesed. We depend upon our good readers to assist the Keren Hachesed volunteers and the people they help.

Boruch Hashem, the response has always been truly magnificent and is a tribute to the righteousness of our readers who are no doubt bombarded with so many pre-Pesach appeals. Those envelopes are mailed back throughout the course of the year and Keren Hachesed counts on these donations to help repay the loans it takes out to help people before Yom Tov.

Readers often wonder what exactly Keren Hachesed is and they deserve to know. It is an organization founded by bnei Torah to help kollel yungeleit, rabbeim and other hard-working people who make a living but can’t afford to make ends meet when it comes to Pesach and will not accept help from public organizations. The Keren carefully screens all potential recipients.

The Keren helps the people who live next door to you in the most bakavodike and respectful way possible. The Keren helps the very people you would be helping if you only knew how to approach them and offer assistance. Contributing to the Keren is a perfect way to help a family just like yours make Yom Tov. In doing so, you are contributing to one of the greatest tzedakos in our area.

If you live in a Torah community within 90 miles of New York City, chances are that you have a neighbor who is enjoying the benefits of Keren Hachesed this Yom Tov. They are good people, with nice, fine families, who dedicate their lives to doing good for the community and have everything but enough money to properly celebrate Yom Tov. Keren Hachesed helps them accomplish that in myriad ways I cannot describe, lest the recipients recognize that they are benefiting from Keren Hachesed. In fact, the recipients don’t even know that Keren Hachesed exists.

Keren Hachesed, working behind the scenes, comes to the rescue in hidden ways.

The volunteers are so dedicated to their cause that those who run the chesed group would rather work harder at raising the finances necessary to do their work than permit me to describe the nature of what they do. They place the dignity and self respect of the people they help above all else. Every year, I offer to write about their activities, and every year they turn me down. They aren’t looking for any attention.

But this year is different. This year especially, with the world financial situation being what it is, the Keren is desperate for assistance to be able to help the nice, proud, happy families it assists every year. This year, the entire operation is in jeopardy due to the way the economic recession has hit many of the fine people who are usually able to subsidize the Keren’s expenses. The Keren still owes suppliers for provisions purchased last year, and if the volunteers are unsuccessful in their fundraising efforts, hundreds of families, of the type you would want to assist in making Yom Tov, will be crestfallen and not able to provide their families with the necessities others take for granted.

Several years ago, some Keren volunteers were involved in multiple mishaps for a few years in a row. They became disturbed by the thought that a Divine message was being sent.

They approached Rav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l, the renowned rov of Antwerp and a towering talmid chochom, who was famous for his untiring efforts for tzedaka and chesed. He replied that the only one who would be able to interpret what had occurred was Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l, known to all as the Steipler Gaon.

One of the people involved in the Keren traveled to Eretz Yisroel and described to the Steipler the organization’s work and the misfortunes that had been happening to the volunteers. He asked for the Steipler’s insight into the significance of these episodes.

The Steipler answered him that not only was there nothing wrong in what they were doing, but the tzedaka they were performing was on such a high level that the Soton was trying to derail them from their noble work.

He suggested that from that year on, all those involved in Keren Hachesed should observe Yom Kippur Kotton on Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, including blowing shofar. Many years later, the ehrilche yungeleit who volunteer for Keren Hachesed maintain that custom.

Since that time, the only problem the Keren has had is raising sufficient funds to keep pace with the need. Every year, somehow, the volunteers are able to maintain their regular activities, but this year there is a very real danger that they will not be able to continue doing so.

So as we run around loading our shopping wagons with everything that we need for Yom Tov, let us keep in mind the people who cannot afford to fill their wagons. As we try on new suits and shoes, let’s keep in mind those who have to make do with old clothing. Let us show that we care about those not as financially blessed as we are. Let us show hakoras hatov to the Ribono Shel Olam for all we have.

Every dollar given to Keren Hachesed will bring a smile to Jewish faces of all ages. You will be contributing to their simchas Yom Tov as well as your own.

When contributing to your local maos chittin campaign, and other good causes, including those advertised in this newspaper, please remember that Keren Hachesed envelope.

This week, we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month of geulah and redemption. If we are worthy, these can be our last days in exile. Let us all pray that in the merit of the mitzvah of tzedaka and the areivus that our acts of kindness demonstrate, this Shabbos, or perhaps the coming Shabbos Hagadol, should be our last Shabbos in golus.

Shabbos Hagadol, literally The Great Shabbos, heralds the traditional rabbinic Pesach drasha, but its significance is broader than that. It is the day on which, 3321 years ago, our forefathers rounded up sheep for the Korban Pesach. It is the day which announces that the chag hageulah is about to descend upon us. Every Shabbos is “great,” every Shabbos is a gift from G-d, but since it comes around every week, we tend to take it for granted.

Shabbos reminds us that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbos is a day which raises us up to a higher spiritual plane than we are on during the rest of the week.

Yetzias Mitzrayim, when we were taken from bondage in Mitzrayim and separated as the Am Hashem, started on Shabbos with the preparations for the Korban Pesach. That seminal event is remembered every year on Shabbos Hagadol.

Shabbos Hagadol is greater than every other Shabbos of the year because it announces that the days which commemorate that aliyah of the Jewish people - and have the spiritual power to renew that aliyah - are once again with us. Shabbos Hagadol heralds the arrival of the sanctified period of time that took our nation to a new and higher level for eternity. May it herald the arrival of the geulah. Amein.


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