Tag Archives: generosity

The Unintentional Shabbos Christian

Shabbat candlesIf a non-Jew lit a candle [for himself], a Jew may also benefit from it. If the non-Jew lit it for the Jew, this is prohibited.

-Shabbos 122a

The Mishnah discusses the case where a gentile lit a candle on Shabbos. If he lit it for himself, the Jew may sit in that illuminated area and benefit from the light. However, if the gentile lit the light for the sake of the Jew, the Jew may not benefit from the light.

There is a variance among the Rishonim in explaining the reason why it is prohibited for a Jew to benefit from labor which a gentile performed (on his own) on Shabbos for the sake of the Jew. Tosafos ( ד”ה ואם ) and Rambam (6:18) explain that if a Jew would be allowed to have this labor done for him, we are concerned that the Jew would then give outright instructions to the gentile to do the labor for him. Rashi and Ran (Beitza 24b) write that it is simply prohibited for the Jew to benefit from labor done for him on Shabbos.

Ritva writes that according to the understanding of Rambam and Tosafos, it might seem that we have arranged a rabbinic precaution (not to benefit from labor done by a gentile) to safeguard another rabbinic injunction (lest we come to give instructions to a gentile outright). This seems to be in violation of the general rule that we do not establish גזירה לגזירה . Nevertheless, the correct explanation is that this is simply a one-staged enactment. The sages set into motion protective measures to ensure that the Shabbos remain special. In order to set it aside and different from the other days of the week, it was necessary to disallow benefiting from the labor performed by a gentile, either when he does it for us by himself without being asked, or whether he does it when asked to do so. These guidelines are all part of the same approach to preserve the sanctity of Shabbos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Preserving the sanctity of Shabbos – through speech”
Commetary on Shabbos 122a

It’s been a particularly cold and icy winter here in Southwest Idaho. Fortunately, it’s warmed up some lately to near normal temperatures for this time of year, but in the past two weeks, lows have been in the single digits and into negative numbers while highs never got anywhere near above freezing. Ice on the roads and sidewalks has been particularly hazardous, and I know of many people, including several in my family, who have fallen and become injured.

But most winters, it’s just the typical matter of shoveling snow off the driveway and sidewalks and being cautious when driving to and from work. I was remembering a typical “snow shoveling” winter of a few years ago that was like the one I just described while reading the above-quoted commentary. It was on a Sunday morning (before I went back to church) and I had some time on my hands. I had finished shoveling the snow off of my own drive and sidewalks, but on Sunday, it can be a chore for some of my “church-going” neighbors to shovel and get ready to go to services. So I decided to just keep going and to clear the driveways and sidewalks of a couple of other houses near me. I know one neighbor in particular whose family goes to church early and generally has a full day of it. I shoveled off their drive and walk while they were gone.

One of the things about me doing such things is that I don’t like to be noticed (kind of hard when you’re standing in the middle of someone’s driveway with a big, orange snow shovel, I must admit). But I thought I’d gotten away with it. I thought no one would figure out it was me. That is, until my neighbor came over later that afternoon to say “thanks.” He was appreciative because Sunday is indeed a very busy day for him and he didn’t know when he’d be able to get around to shoveling his snow. It was a big help.

I don’t say all this to make myself sound like a big deal, though, but I do have a point. Be patient.

Now imagine my neighbor is an Orthodox Jew and all this is happening on Saturday instead of Sunday. Further imagine that my neighborhood is within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue (it’s not, but let’s pretend). Now let’s say I know my neighbor and his family are Jewish and I know that they walk to shul on Saturday morning. They’ve probably already left for services and I know they won’t be shoveling snow on Shabbos. As a Christian, it would be a nice thing for me to help them out and shovel their driveway and sidewalk.

But will they see it that way? Sure, they didn’t ask me to do it for them (which would be forbidden), but technically, they can’t benefit from my labor if I did it to benefit them. Could they even walk on the sidewalk and the driveway I shoveled for them upon their return from shul? Frankly, I don’t know, but in my eagerness to be “a good Christian neighbor,” I may have actually caused more of a problem than a help.

Why am I saying all this?

shoveling-snowLast week, I wrote a large number of “meditations” that addressed how Jews who are Messianic may view a life of halachah in relation to their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua, Christ Jesus. It’s a controversial topic, certainly for Christians and even for a number of Jewish people, but it’s one that needs to be discussed. In reading the commentary on Shabbos 122a just a few days ago, I started to wonder how “Christian generosity” and Jewish observance of Shabbos could unexpectedly collide, producing undesirable results. Granted, the Christian in my imagination was just trying to be a good neighbor and lend a hand, but especially an Orthodox Jewish neighbor might have a fundamentally different way of looking at such “help.” This is what happens when we don’t understand each other.

Granted, in this day and age, people who live in the suburbs next to each other or across the street from each other, don’t get to be friends or acquaintances the way we did when I was a child. Often people don’t even wave “hi” to each other when they are both out in their front yard or passing each other on the street.

But if part of being a Christian is loving your neighbor as yourself, and chances are you know a little bit about yourself, how can you be sensitive to your neighbor’s needs if you don’t know what those needs they are. Snow on a driveway and a sidewalk may seem to tell you want your neighbor requires, but you can’t really go by superficial appearances. Who is your neighbor? How can you help him?

If you, as a Christian, have a Jewish neighbor, and you want to be a good neighbor, it might help if you got to know him a little bit. However, we Christians have other Jewish “neighbors” who may not live near us, but who are connected because our “salvation comes from the Jews.” (John 4:22). Whether your Jewish neighbor is someone who lives near you or, in a more expansive sense, is your “neighbor” because he is a child of God like you, how can you become aware of his needs, and of Israel’s needs, if you don’t know what those needs are?

Addressing my last question, Boaz Michael recently posted a new blog article called Three Kinds of Churches pt.2. It includes a section called “Churches that align with Israel” and the description of such churches (and Christian people) may well be part of the answer we need.

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.

-Pirkei Avot 2:5

Adapting Hillel’s famous statement, we also can’t be a good neighbor, until he have stood in his place, or perhaps just started a conversation with him.

The Tzedakah Life

tzedakah-to-lifeThe Code of Jewish Law (YD 248) states: “Every person is obligated to give tzedakah, even the poor who themselves are recipients thereof.” Maimonides writes that nobody ever became poor from giving tzedakah. In fact, the Talmud (Ta’anit 9a) states that when you give Ma’aser properly, it actually earns you additional wealth. “Which Charities to Give to?”

-From the Ask the Rabbi series

The Tzemach Tzedek writes: The love expressed in “Beside You I wish for nothing,” (Tehillim 73:25) means that one should desire nothing other than G-d, not even “Heaven” or “earth” i.e. Higher Gan Eden and Lower Gan Eden, for these were created with a mere yud…. The love is to be directed to Him alone, to His very Being and Essence. This was actually expressed by my master and teacher (the Alter Rebbe) when he was in a state of d’veikut and he exclaimed as follows: I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your gan eden, I don’t want Your olam haba… I want nothing but You alone.

“Today’s Day” Wednesday, Kislev 18, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

In yesterday’s morning meditation I mentioned that Christian financial adviser James W. Rickard was a special guest speaker last Sunday at the church I attend. As I was listening to what he was saying (the vast majority of which I was quite familiar with), I couldn’t help but think of how “Jewish” it sounded. For instance, he talked about being content with what one has and quoted New Testament scripture to back it up (I don’t have my notes handy, so I can’t tell you the exact verses). And yet, how much does that echo the sages?

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated: “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you” ; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you”—in the World to Come. -Pirkei Avot 4:1

Of course, Rickard’s “source material” is all Jewish (though he probably doesn’t think of it in those terms) so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that his financial advice and comments on charity should sound Jewish as well. For instance, he also said that the Bible does support God providing for us when we give to charity, but unlike those folks who preach a prosperity theology, he didn’t say that God would automatically return material goods and money to us in exchange for our generous giving to the church. He said that God could provide many spiritual gifts such as the ability to show abundant grace, mercy, compassion, courage, and so forth. In fact, Rickard didn’t have many nice things to say about some “Preachers” who urge their audiences to send in their “seed money” with the promise that those folks who do will become wealthy materially. In that scenario, usually the only one to become rich is the Preacher collecting the money.

But you can see that giving is a value that is shared by both Jews and Christians and that even those people who have very little can still provide something to those who have even less. It’s so hard to even think about giving when we’re in the middle of tough financial times. It seems this “recession” or whatever it is, has lasted longer than other, similar recessions of the past 20 or 30 or 40 years or so. When times are tough, the natural tendency is to reduce spending and to try to save up. kindnessOK, Americans are addicted to credit card debt, but imagine instead of being able to use a credit card, you have to hand over cold, hard cash. Now, you’ll see the reluctance to part with money that is “real” and not just a bunch of digital information traveling over a network. If all you had was cash, you’d want to save.

The simple reason I believe all people should give charity is that we are put here to serve God. Even an atheist may serve God unknowingly by giving to charity or providing some kindness to the poor and disadvantaged. If we wait for someone else to do it or for God to provide some sort of miracle to help the needy, we may miss out on the fact that God created you and me to be “the miracle.”

Lead a supernatural life and G‑d will provide the miracles. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “Be a Miracle” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

What is a supernatural life? Perhaps one composed not only of “practical” or “common sense” but one that also utilizes faith and trust in God as its tools. It’s expecting God to be more faithful to us than we are to Him, and if we’re faithful, even within the bounds of human limitation, He is certain to be abundantly faithful. This doesn’t mean spending ourselves into debt, even for the sake of charity, but it does mean trusting that investing in another human being is not a waste of resources, nor will it cause us to suffer loss. No, you can’t give five bucks to every panhandler you encounter, nor can you write five dollar cheques to each and every charity that mails or emails you a request, but you can find a particular need and choose to satisfy it.

Many people will spend themselves into debt to satisfy the “requirement” of Christmas, with all of its gift giving, social obligations, and so forth. If instead, you took a sizeable sum of the money you would otherwise spend on gifts that people probably don’t need (still gift them if you must, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant) and bought food for the local food bank, purchased and donated clothing and blankets to a homeless shelter, or donated funds to a worthy cause in the name of a loved one, how much more would your giving really mean?

acts-of-kindnessIf you are a person of faith and trust, then God will allow you to do what He considers good, but have a care. If you’re giving in order to cause God to give back to you, then your motives are shot through with holes. True, the needy will still be provided for, but you may be cheating yourself out of drawing nearer to God if what you want from Him is dollars and cents. If December seems too much like the stereotypic month to give for the sake of the Christian holiday, there’s no law that says you can’t give in January or in some other month. People get hungry and need shelter every day of the week, fifty-two weeks out of the year. And God is always there.

To a fool, that which cannot be explained cannot exist. The wise man knows that existence itself cannot be explained. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “The Inexplicable” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org