Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chapter 13: Rachomim [1]

When the poor come to you and tell you that they do not have food for Shabbos, and you deign yourself in faith and tell them to trust in G-d-that is true heresy.

(Rebbe Dov of Liaba)

Although The One Above commanded that B’nai Yisrael,[2] dwell in sukkot[3], the very weather conditions He creates at this time of the year occasionally force us to return to the sukkat shlomenu[4] of our homes.

Whereas its roof affords a view of the stars,[5] the sukkah does not measure up very well as an umbrella nor do its flimsy walls insulate us very well against the chilling effects of the autumn breezes.

We dwell in these temporal tabernacles the eight days of Sukkot[6] to approximate the experience of our ancestors’ travail during the forty years of their desert sojourn and to remind ourselves of the on-going miracle of Jewish survival despite the fact a new pharoah rises to power to destroy us in every generation.

The Coat

A homeless man would spend his nights under a heap of blankets tucked away in the corner of a local business entranceway but had left by the time of dawn each day..

It occurred to me while Ben and I were fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah[7] that there was no better time than the present to teach him the invaluable lessons of both tzedaka and chesed[8] in a way I hoped he would never forget. To do so, however, would require that we return home for a few minutes.

Taking a coat from my closet I had never worn nor liked, we hurriedly returned to my car, coat in hand and drove a short distance. Along the way, I explained that in the past several weeks I had noticed the plight of a certain homeless man who was living at night, as it were, tucked away in the corner of a local storefront.

“Ben, I know of someone who can use this coat!”

We pulled up in front of the store and placed the coat atop his “dwelling”. Hearing his snoring, we turned and left.

With that we were done!

That day, we learned two vitally important lessons:

Sukkot is indeed a z’man simchasenu.[9] How gratifying it felt to be able to teach my son by example! I know I had always learned better that way too.

Secondly, my mostly unspoken emphasis was that the essence of tzedaka[10] lies in acts of anonymous charity so as to spare its recipient any shame.


[1] mercy
[2] children of Israel
[3] the fragile shelters, booths, tabernacles erected just prior to Sukkot
[4] the shelter of our peace
[5] to remind us of The One Above
[6] Jewish holiday recalling the 40-year desert sojourn
[7] for which we recite the blessing “l’shev b’ sukkah.”
[8] tzedaka: righteousness though commonly translated as ‘chaity’; chesd: kindness
[9] season of our joy
[10] righteousness, often understood to mean ‘charity’

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