Gut Shabbes! (Mishpotim)

In this week’s Parsha, we learn about lending money. Not only are we obligated to lend money to someone in need of a loan, but it is in fact considered a form of tzedekah. Donating money to someone, enabling them to get through the day and put food on the table is a huge mitzvah; but enabling them to help themself is even more important. This is where loans come in; although it may be easier to drop coins in a box, or give a one-time monetary gift, a loan allows someone to change their life independently, and hopefully end up in a position where they can repay you, as opposed to feeling dependant on the gifts and whims of others.

The Parsha reminds us not to ‘act as a creditor’ towards people who owe us money; no matter how much we want our money back, we can’t harass the person we loaned money to. The whole point of granting a loan is to help others, and not to help ourselves benefit financially. For this reason, charging interest is forbidden. This mindset doesn’t just apply to loans. It should apply to all the acts of kindness we do in our lives. We shouldn’t help others expecting something in return, whether it’s money, power or their gratitude. Instead, we should remember the laws of giving loans, and give with the aim of empowering others and pleasing G-d. After all, when we make G-d’s creations happy, we make Him happy too…

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:46 PM tonight, and Shabbes goes out at 5:58 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perrel. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Mitzvah Day

Today was Mitzvah Day.

I never used to understand or like the day. I thought that it was- at best- odd to have a day dedicated to doing mitzvos, when we are supposed to do them every day. But more recently, it has led me to reconsider our definition of a mitzvah.

There are lots of highly spiritual mitzvos which elevate one’s soul, but do little to change their surroundings. It troubles me deeply that many people in both Chareidi and non Chareidi communities spend a lot of time on these mitzvos while ignoring the small acts of kindness which they could do.

Perhaps the more mundane things, such as donating food and warm clothing, helping someone carry heavy shopping, or volunteering to do hands-on work for a charity, require more effort than studying Torah. But without good deeds, Torah study is- G-d forbid- meaningless.

We need to act, as well as just talking and learning. And maybe that’s what Mitzvah Day is about. It’s an opportunity to infuse the mundane with holiness, as opposed to sitting in ivory towers and preaching holiness. May we all merit to perform mitzvos and hasten the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days!

Parsha Re’eh: Emotional Charity

In this week’s Parsha, Re’eh, we read about the mitzvah of tzedekah- charity- and the obligation to help one who is needy. We are told to loan or give money to those who need it, and to forgive all loans every Sabbatical year. To Jews living around the world today, tzedekah is still very important, and it is the norm for observant families to donate money to a number of charitable organisations.

But if we are to live by the words of the Torah and the Chassidus, we find that ahavos Yisroel- love for our fellow Jew- is more important than anything else. And although giving him money may very well be a big part of that, there is another kind of underprivileged person among us who we must remember to help: someone who is in distress.

We don’t give money to literally every person we see, and similarly, we don’t need to singlehandedly support people who drain us. But we do have an obligation to give “emotional” charity; to have compassion on those worse off than us, to support them during a hard time, and, if nothing else, to not add to their sorrow.

Part of being a Jew is being part of a community. And being part of a community means supporting one another. This comes in the form of gemachs; of hosting others for free Shabbes meals; of paying for orphans’ weddings; or donating money to help those who cannot afford the necessities. But it also means emotionally supporting each other: visiting the sick, comforting the widow, being there for people who have no one else.

In the past few weeks- and perhaps even the past few years- there has been plenty of hatred and darkness in the world. Political turmoil, discrimination and bigotry, and attacks from all sides of the political spectrum. And it’s in times like these that we are especially obligated to dispel the darkness with an extra measure of light, as the Alter Rebbe taught us. Supporting and giving back to others is a huge part of spreading light, and as we read about the mitzvah of charity this week, we should remember the “other” kind of giving which makes life so purposeful.

Tikkun Olam and Loshon Hora

Yesterday, I wrote about less-than-positive experiences in the Jewish community, and about the nature of ostracism. It’s not a pleasant topic. As wonderful as  it would be if Jewish communities were entirely warm and inclusive, they aren’t. Communities, families and rabbis do bad things. They can cut people off, spread rumours, and destroy relationships. It’s ugly. Immensely ugly. And what’s ugliest of all is that it is so often swept under the rug.

There’s a phrase I use a lot- central to Judaism, and beautiful in every sense- called Tikkun Olam. It means mending the world. Making the world a better place. When we’re surrounded by so much poverty, illness, hatred and sorrow, it’s a very tempting goal. I think we can all agree that there’s a lot wrong with the world right now, and that we all have a duty to do something about it. We need to spread light and kindness, we need to perform good deeds, we need to help others. These are all nice, pretty notions- who doesn’t want to ment the world?

But if we’re going to fix it, we first need to recognise what’s wrong with it, and what’s more, we’re going to have to actually talk about it.

No more sweeping under the rug. No more branding any sort of criticism as ‘loshon hora’. No more hiding our problems within the gates of the safe, ‘warm’ community and not facing up to them. If we’re going to mend this world, and bring Moshiach (may he come speedily and in our days!), we need to mend ourselves first. We need to get talking. And that’s the not-so-pretty side of Tikkun Olam. Do you think you can face up to it?

 

Chesed

In today’s page of the Tanya, we read the following passage about charity and kindness. Although we may be busy in the run up to Peysekh, with our cleaning and preperations and arrangements, we should always make time for each other. For it’s when we do this that we truly connect with G-d.

”Charity is one of G‑d’s attributes which we are enjoined to emulate, as our Sages say, “As He is compassionate… [so must you be]”; and as it is written in Tikkunei Zohar, “Kindness is the right arm of G‑d,” so to speak, and therefore human kindness constitutes an abode for the Divine attribute of kindness.

Even though one distributes as charity no more than one fifth of his earnings — the maximum requirement for charity; how then is he an abode for G‑dliness while he is engaged in earning the other four fifths

Yet that fifth elevates with it all the other four parts to G‑d, so that they too become an abode for Him.”

Torah study is a magnificent mitzvah, and we need to learn about and abide by all the halachos in order to live a G-dly life. But we can’t just study them; we need to live by them, too, and this begins with treating others kindly and giving to those in need.

Gut Shabbes! (Bo)

This shabbes is a very important day, because it is the shabbes directly before the 10th of Shevat, a day on which we commemorate two very important events in the history of the Chabad Lubavitch movement; not only is it the yahrzeit of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, but it is also the day on which the 7th Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad movement. On such an important occasion I can only echo the message I have heard from others; this shabbes, let’s work together to hasten Moshiach and continue their legacies. Whether that’s lighting shabbes candles, giving to charity before shabbes begins, or inviting someone to your house, your single mitzvah could tip the scales and lead to Moshiach’s arrival.

In London, shabbes candles should be lit at 4:36 PM this evening, and Shabbes ends on Saturday evening at 5:48. While lighting candles, please remember Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen, Chaim Elazar Shaul ben Esther and Boruch ben Soroh Gittel. Gut shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Vayechi)

If you’re experiencing bad weather this week- as many of us are-  I hope that the warmth and joy of shabbes is a beacon of light for you. As you enjoy the splendour of the shabbes candles and the special services, take a minute to reflect upon those who cannot enjoy these things. When we experience a period without festivals, it’s easy to forget about the mitzvah of tzedekah. Be the change; the mitzvah which leads to another mitzvah; and give to others so that you, too, can be the light at the end of the tunnel. In London, candles should be lit at 4 PM, and shabbes ends on Saturday evening at 5:16 PM. When lighting your candles, please remember those who need a refuah shleimah. Please daven for Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Chaim Elazar Shaul ben Esther, Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen, Rafael ben Chaya Leah, Elana Rachel bas Jill Leah and Rachel bas Bluma HaCohen.

Gut shabbes!

The World is Built on Kindness

In Judaism, the phrase ‘Tikkun Olam’ appears pretty frequently. It basically means ‘mending the world’, which sounds like a massive task. Think of the size of the world itself,  and the amount of sorrow and immorality in it, and compare it to the power and influence of the average person on the street. It seems pretty impossible to fix the world. And that’s why it’s so important to attempt to do so. If it’s just you, or just I, against everyone else, it is admittedly a losing battle. Add in just one other person, and suddenly, the amount of good deeds is growing exponentially. If we all promised to try our hand at this mending the world thing, we’d be done in no time at all, as we made our way from place to place, influencing others and changing lives. But wait. How exactly are we supposed to be going about this?

We can’t mend the world if we don’t know how to do so, but luckily, the method is rather easy. In fact, it’s a one ingredient recipe, and the ingredient requires no money or resources whatsoever (though of course resources help). It’s kindness. Simple, humble acts of kindness- changing (and mending!) the world, one at a time. Hence the title of this article. ‘The World is Built on Kindness’. Think back to the last good deed you performed- perhaps it was listening to someone’s problem, or helping a stranger with their groceries- and ask yourself if you changed the world that day. Probably, you’ll answer “definitely not!”. Fortunately, you’re wrong about that. If you don’t believe this- just imagine for a minute if everyone in the works was willing to perform the small good deed you did. Don’t you think the world would be a much prettier place?

In the Tanya, we read about the ideal way to give tzedekah. Of course, giving to charity in any way, shape or form, is a massively important mitzvah, but the Alter Rebbe teaches us that it’s better to give a small amount each day, so that one grows accustomed to giving, than to give one lump sum each year. It’s the same with good deeds, with chesed. Rather than making a grand gesture, it’s far better to start small, and even carry on that way. It’s much more manageable and much easier to find enthusiasm for. And this truly is the meaning of Tikkun Olam- performing kind deeds with enthusiasm.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s start straight away and hasten the arrival of Moshiach, may he come speedily and in our days!

Mitzvah Day

Today is mitzvah day. Volunteers all across the UK are teaming up to perform good deeds. Often, this involves supporting food banks and charities, by donating goods, money, or- most importantly- time. At first, I admittedly thought little of mitzvah day. It seemed too politicised, too left-wing, too reform for my liking. And I said this with full knowledge of the United Synagogue’s campaigns. Maybe it was the nature of those who took part, maybe it was the lack of Chossidic involvement, maybe it was the fact that it didn’t involve ”spiritual” mitzvot (Tefillin, Shabbes candles, etc), but whatever the reason was, I didn’t think much of it. And only recently did I take the time to sit back and examine my position. Why did I think so little of mitzvah day, when so many put their time and energy into it? What was I doing that was inherently better? Was I feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and putting a roof over the heads of the homeless? No, no, and no. I wasn’t. I spoke of the corporeal, mundane nature of mitzvah day- without remembering my own comments on Parshas Shlach. It’s physical mitzvot which matter. How could I say this, without appreciating the physical mitzvot performed by thousands of workers on mitzvah day?

The halacha says that when a starving man asks us for food, we can’t begrudge him it. If he asks for money, we can consider his position, and then make our own decision. But to let a hungry man starve is against the law; even if we have no desire to help this person, we must. And on mitzvah day, the hungry are being fed. Across the UK, they’re being helped. And where was I? No-where. So I’m changing my mind. Reconsidering my position. Even if I am utterly opposed to the (reform, non-traditional) nature of the participants, can I really rebuff the whole concept of mitzvah day? Because if I am, I’d better be doing something even more crucial, even more life-saving, infused with even more chesed- and to be honest, I can’t think of such a thing.