Tag Archives: charity

Being Heaven on Earth

feeding“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Matthew 25:34-40


Each year, we Jews spend so many millions of dollars, and devote so much time and energy, to building synagogues, Jewish schools, and a slew of other religious and academic institutions. Wouldn’t it be better if we applied all those resources to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and working to alleviate all the horrendous suffering that goes on in so many places in the world?


Jewish education is the impetus for charity. Any charity. People with a proper Jewish education are most likely to give more charity to the hungry, to the sick, and to the helpless. And to future Jewish education.

Because when you invest in Jewish education and Jewish institutions you are investing in every form of charity.

-Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

What separates Jews and Christians? It shouldn’t be the desire, the will, and the action of helping others, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the unclothed, and visiting the sick. This is a value that is inexorably woven into the fabric of both faiths and has been since the beginning. Tzedakah or “charity” is at the very heart of the Jewish service to God. It is considered more than just a good thing to do and is an actual obligation to Heaven, as described at the Judaism 101 website.

Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins. The High Holiday liturgy repeatedly states that G-d has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah can alleviate the decree.

Numerous positive and negative commandments are devoted to the needs of the poor and unfortunate based on verses from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. When Jesus commands his disciples to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, he is quoting Leviticus 19:18, so the core of both Judaism and Christianity is charity and love. Nevertheless, as I pointed out in yesterday’s morning meditation, there is a startling degree of separation between Judaism and Christianity. Although much in our culture, worship, and identity keeps us apart, we also find there should be much that makes us alike.

A few events inspired me to write today’s “extra meditation”. The first was a story I read yesterday at jweekly.com about a woman named Linda Cohen.

When Linda Cohen’s father died in 2007, the mother of two was reeling. Grief-stricken, she decided to take time off from her active life and health consulting job in Oregon for a “spiritual sabbatical.”

“I just wanted to be quiet. I wanted the time to be with that loss,” recalls Cohen, a Boston native.

But within a month, she had a new sense of direction. Inspired by her father’s wishes to have friends and relatives make donations to charities in lieu of sending flowers after his death, she decided to honor his memory by performing 1,000 mitzvahs.

LindaCohenThe story goes on to say that Linda’s husband encouraged her to chronicle her progress on a blog which became 1000mitzvahs.org. Four years later, Linda’s compassion and her story has become a book: 1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire and Change Your Life.

Linda Cohen is just one person who lost her father. A lot of people have lost a loved one and we all know that sooner or later, our parents are going to die. We all go through that grief at some point in our lives, but most of us don’t recognize it as anything except another stage in our existence. Linda turned her grief into not only a way to honor her father, but a way to help many others and to inspire the rest of us.

The second inspiration came in the form of a video I watched on Facebook earlier this morning about a fellow in India who was so moved by compassion for the people starving in his own village, that he quit his job just to feed them, to clothe them, to bathe them, and to remind them that we are all human beings.

The original story is from CNN. Here’s the link to the Facebook page for Achyut Sharma’s Video on this story. It’s less than three minutes long. Please watch it before continuing to read here.

It’s not like any of this is revolutionary news, or at least it shouldn’t be. I’ve talked about being the answer to someone’s prayer before. You don’t have to quit your job and make it your full time mission to help the starving in your community. You don’t have to abandon you life, goals, and dreams, but you can make doing even one small mitzvah a day part of those goals and dreams.

Debate about what counted as a mitzvah – Replacing a roll of toilet paper? Smiling at a stranger? – became the stuff of Cohen family’s dinner-table discussion. (Cohen’s children were 6 and 9 when the project started, and grew to see the recurring topic as perfectly normal, she says.) These questions also served as conversation-starters on Cohen’s blog, which steadily gained followers over the course of the 2 1/2-year mission.

“There’s nothing really too small,” she says. “The idea is that bringing even a bit of kindness into the world is a holy connection.”

Just imagine if you did one thing today as a good deed that you didn’t have to do. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Maybe it’s just picking up one piece of trash off the ground and putting it in a garbage can. Maybe it’s smiling at someone you pass on the street. Maybe it’s buying one extra can of food at the store and then stopping by the local food bank and donating it. Nothing big.

Now imagine doing that one thing every day. That’s 365 mitzvot in a year. Now imagine inspiring one other person to do the same thing. Imagine that other person inspires one other person, and so on, and so on, and so on, and…

Tikkun Olam doesn’t begin with huge, heroic, “Superman-like” acts of courage and strength. It begins with one person who cares enough to pass along some small blessing to the next person. It can be one person feeding the poor, the starving, the old, and the mentally ill in his village, or it can be a person taking five minutes out of their day to help their next door neighbor move a sofa. It can be anything, but it must be something.

You don’t have to be religious to do something like this and, to the shame of people who profess faith and yet do nothing for others, many secular people perform frequent acts of kindness for the sake of doing good. If you are a person of faith, it is a duty to God to serve other human beings, not as a burden and a chore, but because it is passing along the grace we received from God to the next person, regardless of who they are, or regardless if your acts ever become known to others.

You may never put your deeds on a blog, write a book, or be filmed by CNN, but as the Master taught, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

You can change the world. You can inspire others to change the world. You don’t need to make some herculean effort to accomplish this. You only have to do one extra deed a day and then do it every day. Anyone can complain about the terrible condition of our world. Anyone can carry signs, protest, and cry out for justice. But very few actually do something about it, even though anyone can. If you seek justice, act justly toward others. If you seek mercy, then be merciful. If you want to be forgiven, then forgive. If you value kindness, then be kind.

I learned so much throughout this process,” she says. “I moved out of a place of grief, into a place of feeling very inspired. If there’s something negative that happens, I feel like there’s a lesson I can glean from that. I really learned how to see the good in the world.” –Linda Cohen

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. –Matthew 6:10-12

Don’t wait for goodness to come into the world. It’s here now because you’re here now. All you have to do is perform it. Your faith means nothing until you do. Then your faith means everything.

What You Bring to Prayer

MinyanA man may commit a crime now and teach mathematics effortlessly an hour later. But when a man prays, all he has done in his life enters his prayer.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism
pp. 301-2

In a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”

What does it mean to be a person of faith? Ironically, the answer may depend on your religion. Different faith groups seem to emphasize different priorities. What we believe we must do to serve God depends on the rules we have for such an occasion. In reading Rabbi Heschel’s book God in Search of Man, I found a representation of both the Jewish and Christian viewpoint on what it is to be a servant of God.

Here is how Heschel (p. 293) sees Christianity and frankly, how many Christians see themselves.

Paul waged a passionate battle against the power of law and proclaimed instead the religion of grace. Law, he exclaimed, cannot conquer sin, nor can righteousness be attained through works of the law. A man is justified “by faith without deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

By contrast, Heschel presents Judaism thus:

It takes deeds more seriously than things. Jewish law is, in a sense, a science of deeds. Its main concern is not only how to worship Him at certain times but how to live with Him at all times. Every deed is a problem; there is a unique task at every moment. All of life at all moments is the problem and the task. (p. 292)

The claim of Judaism that religion and law are inseparable is difficult for many of us to comprehend. The difficulty may be explained by modern man’s conception of the essence of religion. To the modern mind, religion is a state of the soul, inwardness; feeling rather than obedience, faith rather than action, spiritual rather than concrete. To Judaism, religion is not a feeling for something that is, but an answer to Him who is asking us to live in a certain way. It is in its very origin a consciousness of total commitment; a realization that all of life is not only man’s but also God’s sphere of interest. (p. 293)

Heschel presents a very rigid dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity as faith lived out in deeds vs. one expressed only by internal introspection. Even prayer for a Jew is a matter, not only of what he thinks and feels, but what he does, vs. the prayer of a Christian as being a private, ephemeral pipeline between man and God, excluding anything behavioral. In fact, Heschel (p.295) paints an extremely dismal portrait of Christianity in this following example:

Thus acts of kindness, when not dictated by the sense of duty, are no better than cruelty, and compassion or regard for human happiness as such is looked upon as an ulterior motive. “I would not break my word even to save mankind!” exclaimed Fichte. His salvation and righteousness were apparently so much more important to him than the fate of all men that he would have destroyed mankind to save himself.

DaveningThe mistake in judging Christianity that Heschel makes is in judging the faultiness of some of its followers rather than the source itself. Didn’t James, the brother of the Master, write this?

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. –James 2:14-26

Of course, many Christians all but ignore this short but well-known piece of advice in favor of the creed whereby salvation is accomplished through faith alone and without works, thus depicting any good deeds as ultimately useless to an individual’s salvation.

But who said we are here simply to be saved? Yes, mankind is in trouble, we are morally bankrupt, self-driven, greedy, materialistic, and would consume our neighbor alive if there were not laws to prevent it. We need to be saved, not only from our ultimate fate at the hands of a living and just God, but from our own acts of self-destruction.

But why do Christians stop at praying for the church? Why do some Pastors limit their preaching to the salvation of the faithful when all people everywhere need not only a realization of God, but to live out a life that serves God and man? Even our secular and atheist brothers and sisters in the world surpass us in compassion sometimes.

I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you. For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it.

-Max Udargo
“Open Letter to that 53% Guy”
Daily Kos

You may consider Mr. Udargo’s statement to be extreme (and I’ve quoted him before), but he is expressing compassion for men and women he doesn’t even know and, through his taxes, he’s willing to pay to make sure they receive care they neither worked for nor, in some cases, ever intend to pay back. Shouldn’t a Christian have the same selfless caring for the needy, the broken, and the dying?

I think we’re supposed to, but the message has become lost. Like most of the rest of our culture, the church has become internally driven and self seeking. Perhaps the synagogue is no better in practice, but Rabbi Heschel reminds us that Judaism, and by inference Christianity, has a core set of principles that differs from how we actually choose to practice a life of faith today. Jesus said himself that we are to love both God and man (Matthew 22:37-40) and he didn’t mean just the people that we know and love.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48

If, as Rabbi Heschel says, that “when a man prays, all he has done in his life enters his prayer”, then it’s not just what we think or feel when we are attempting to draw closer to God, but what we do that defines our relationship with Him. To see a person’s true relationship with the Creator, look at how they treat people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. –1 John 4:20-21

Re’eh: When Did We Feed You?

Feeding Hungry Children“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”Matthew 25:37-40

We are told in the Torah Portion Re’eh , “Follow G-d your L-rd, fear Him, observe His commandments, hearken to His voice, serve Him and cleave to Him.” On the words “cleave to Him,” Rashi explains: “Cleave to His ways, perform acts of loving kindness, bury the dead, visit the sick, just as G-d has done.”

The Chassidic Dimension: Re’eh
From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIV, pp. 53-63.

For last week’s Torah Portion Eikev, I wrote that cleaving to God is actually an effort to bring the Messiah:

Cleaving to a Rebbe, honoring him, and learning from him, and then passing what you’ve learned to others and particularly down to the next generation in response to the desire to cling to God. When we cling to our “Rebbe”, to Jesus, we are fulfilling God’s desire.

In quoting the Master’s words above, as recorded in Matthew, I mirrored the interpretation of the Torah portion as rendered by Rashi:

Rashi’s comment must be understood: Since, according to Rashi , the verse means to tell us that we should cleave to G-d’s ways and act as He does, why doesn’t the verse explicitly state “cleave to His ways” rather than “cleave to Him?”

Moreover, since the command to cleave to G-d’s ways is stated as “cleave to Him ,” it is understandable that the ultimate unity with G-d is accomplished specifically through following G-d’s example and performing acts of loving kindness.

One SoulThe word “to cleave” in Hebrew, gives the sense of adhering or “gluing” yourself to the object of adherence. It is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 when the Torah states, “a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife”. It would be impossible for a human being to literally “cleave” to God as a man cleaves to his wife, and we see that to obey the will of God in this matter, we must attach ourselves to someone to typifies the characteristics of God (performing acts of loving kindness, burying the dead, visiting the sick, and so on), ultimately performing the behaviors we learn from them.

Jesus described his disciples, that is “us”, cleaving to God, as it were, by obeying the will of our Master and doing the same things he does; inviting the stranger into our home, clothing the unclothed, and visiting the sick and the prisoner. Sounds somewhat like knowing a tree by the fruit it bears (Matthew 7:20).

We might be tempted to force ourselves to do good deeds in order to “earn” favor in Heaven, but there’s something else to consider from this week’s Torah portion:

These concepts are relevant with regard to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Re’eh, which begins: “See that I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” The portion continues to allude to free choice, reward and punishment: “The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments. and the curse [will come] if you do not heed. and go astray from the path which I have commanded.”

Moshe is telling the people that their observance of G-d’s commandments will not be a spontaneous response. Instead, they will constantly be required to make conscious choices.

Why does G-d grant man choice?

-Rabbi Eli Touger
Commentary on Torah Portion Re’eh
“The Power of Sight”
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1339ff; Vol. XV, p. 44

Good question, and one that’s been asked many times throughout the sometimes turbulent relationship between man and God.

Rabbi Touger continues:

Were man’s choice between good and evil to come naturally, he would not have any sense of accomplishment. What would he have earned?

For this reason, man is confronted at every stage of his spiritual progress with challenges which he must overcome on his own. By nature, evil has no substance, and as darkness is repelled by light, evil would be instantly subdued by the power of holiness.

The themes of loving God, obeying Him, having a greater purpose in life, finding our mission, have been part of a series of blogs I wrote recently, based on the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute course Toward a Meaningful Life. We see in the commentaries for Torah Portion Re’eh, that we not only bring something of the Messiah into the world now by behaving as he does, loving God and loving other people, but that our actions today ripple into a time when God’s manifestation on Earth will be absolute:

The ultimate expression of the potential of sight will be in the Era of the Redemption, with the fulfillment of the prophecy: “The glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see.” In contrast to the present era, when we can see only material entities and G-dliness is perceived as an external force, in that future time, we will see directly how G-dliness is the truth of all existence.

Nor is this merely a promise for the distant future. The Redemption is an imminent reality, so close that a foretaste of its revelations is possible today.

Feed My Starving Children logoWhat we do matters right now. What we do also matters in the Messianic age. It is inescapable. We have free will to act or to refrain from acting, to choose to cling to God or to withdraw from Him. Either way, there are tremendous consequences, not only for ourselves, but for people and events we effect, whether we realize it or not.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?

Who will your next act of kindness or indifference serve or fail to serve?

Good Shabbos.