by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"You shall surely give him, and do not let your heart sink when you give
him, because since you have done this thing, HaShem your G-d will bless you
in all your actions and in all your activities." [15:10]
Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, says "you shall surely give him"even 100
times. And Maimonides, on the Mishnah in the Chapters of the Fathers 3:19,
"and all is according to the abundance of the action," says: "levels of
elevation do not reach a person through the greatness of one act, so much
as through an abundantly large number of acts." As much as one tremendous,
selfless act can have a great impact on a person and change him or her for
the better, 100 smaller deeds will eventually have an even larger influence.
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meyer HaCohen Kagan, says that this
explains how we should give Tzedakah, charity. He says it is better for an
individual if he or she gives 100 individual dollars to 100 poor people,
than all to one person. This way, one becomes accustomed to fight against
his miserly inclinations 100 times, and it becomes easier to win in the
future. Furthermore, giving Tzedakah becomes a completely natural act,
given that one has become accustomed to giving by doing so such a large
number of times.
Of course, there is an implied criticism here against giving charity by
placing a large sum of money into a fund, and then allowing the directors
of the fund to handle all of the disbursements without further involvement.
The Chofetz Chaim compared this to a real-life situation in his town of
Radin, Poland. He lived at the time when the town first purchased an
electrical generator and wired all the houses and courtyards with electric
lighting. One evening something broke within the machine, and darkness
descended upon all of the houses and streets, and even in the synagogue.
So he pointed out that before they had electricity, every house had a
kerosene light -- and if in one particular house the kerosene ran out, or
the wick burnt away, or the glass broke, that only that one house would be
dark. But when everyone is dependent upon one machine, darkness spreads
over the entire city if it breaks for any reason.
From here, he said, one must learn to not simply write one large check to
the Federation (I didn't know that they had them in Poland, but Rabbi
Shmuel Greineman spells out "Federations" in Hebrew letters, in his
collection of the Chofetz Chaim's discourses on the Torah reading). It is
certainly more inconvenient to receive people individually, or to respond
to their mailings. But if people give individually, then if a particular
organization, institution or impoverished family is turned away by a few
donors, the institution or family can nonetheless find sustenance by
turning to others. Whereas if everything is placed in hands of a few
designated representatives, then if those representatives are unresponsive
to a particular appeal, then the entire city loses the merit of supporting
that poor family or Torah institution -- and darkness descends over the
So when appeals come our way, let us learn to respond individually, to
think as individuals, to grow through our own charity!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken