It is a frequent occurrence in our community. The doorbell chimes, and the man on the other side of the threshold simply says, “Tzedakah.”
He might be an indigent person appealing for himself, or a meshulach representing some worthy cause. He hasn’t made any appointment or given a clue that he was planning to stop by. In fact, this is probably the first time you have ever seen him.
This scene repeats itself many times each day in shul. A man may have just started to daven or perhaps is putting away his tefillin when he senses someone standing right in front of him. The voice is tired, the tone is low, but the word is the same. “Tzedakah,” the stranger says simply.
A mother is walking down the street, deep in conversation with her teenage daughter. At first they don’t notice the frail woman sitting on a milk crate in front of the bank. “Tzedakah for Shabbos,” she pleads.
Who are these nameless individuals who sometimes intrude in our lives at the most inconvenient times?
They are actually messengers from the King of kings, says the Shevet Mussar in his classic sefer Me’il Tzedakah.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu, eager to be mezakeh a Yid with the great lifesaving mitzvah of tzedakah, sends the poor man as His personal messenger.
“Don’t walk away!” the Shevet Mussar warns, for then it will appear that you are humiliating a messenger of Hashem.
* * *
Tzedakah isn’t only about giving, it is about how we give.
This week the Torah instructs us, “You shall surely give him, and let not your heart feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter Hashem will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.”
Sefarim warn us how careful one must be not to embarrass the poor in any way or to indicate any annoyance or frustration.
Yesh Nochalin, by the father of the Shelah Hakadosh, urges donors to show true sympathy to the poor and to take the opportunity to express gratitude to Hashem for being on the giving end and not the receiving end.
“Certainly one should not push him off by telling him to return on the morrow,” he warns.
For those collecting tzedakah, their time can be even more precious than that of the wealthy philanthropists doling out generous donations. Every extra minute they are forced to wait at one address means they are losing out on going elsewhere.
* * *
It was an all-too-familiar situation. A Yid was about to marry off his child and had no financial means with which to do so. Like so many before him, he made his way to the Rebbetzin Alte Feige, a”h, the Satmarer Rebbetzin. She listened intently and gave the Yid an exceptionally large sum of money. She also had a piece of advice.
“Go in to the Rebbe and tell him your situation. Don’t tell him that you saw me and that I gave you already.”
The Yid dutifully followed her instructions. The Rebbe too handed him a very large donation. He also had a piece of advice for the Yid.
“You should also go into the Rebbetzin and tell her your situation. Don’t tell her that you saw me and that I gave you already.”
The sums that the Rebbe and his Rebbetzin regularly borrowed to distribute to tzedakah were astronomical, and their approach to the performance of this mitzvah is legendary.
Once two Yidden of Eretz Yisrael were in such bitter financial straits that they were forced to come to America to collect money. Although not personally affiliated with Satmar, they had heard of the great acts of tzedakah for which the Satmar Rebbe was famous, so they decided to make his court their first stop.
After listening to their bitter tale of woe, the Rebbe gave them some divrei chizuk and one hundred dollars. The two gasped; this was a considerable sum at the time, far more than they had envisioned receiving. They thanked the Rebbe profusely and were already at the door when the Rebbe called them back.
The two grew concerned. Has there been some sort of misunderstanding? they thought to themselves. Does the Rebbe expect change from the hundred dollars?
They had no need to worry. To their astonishment, the Rebbe told them, “You are supposed to ask for more.”
Puzzled, they waited for an explanation.
“Every businessman knows that he is supposed to handel (bargain) to try to get as much money as possible. When you are handed a donation, you are supposed to try to get even more money.”
And the Rebbe handed them another twenty dollars.
The two Yidden visited several other homes to collect money. At each stop they retold the story of their encounter with the Rebbe. At each stop their hosts responded with an “extra” donation.
* * *
The mitzvah of tzedakah can be challenging at times. But when we realize that the reason some of us are poor is — as Chazal explain — to save those in better financial straits from the fires of Gehinnom, it becomes easier to view the poor man not as a bothersome intruder but as a messenger from Hashem to save us from calamity, R”l. By contemplating this thought, we can make every tzedakah-giving opportunity an inspiring, uplifting experience.