By Rabbi Steven Bayar
Rabbi Bayar is “blogging” for Rabbis Without Borders-My Jewish Learning. We will share his monthly observations here on the CBI Blog. This post was published on October 19, 2014.
Several years ago I went to visit one of my daughters in Israel. She was attending a summer program and had one Shabbat free in Jerusalem. Friday afternoon several families took their daughters to Ben Yehuda Street to prepare for Shabbat.
Friday afternoon on Ben Yehuda Street is an experience not to be missed. In the summer you might meet friends from your hometown, your rabbi or see different groups of Hasidim congregating and preparing for Shabbat.
As a group we were beset by beggars asking for money. Some would give a few “shek” (or “shekel” worth about 25 cents at the time) or like me, they would turn away. One young American male, dressed in Hasidic garb, persisted. I finally asked him, “Why are you asking for money?” He answered, “I have nothing to eat for Shabbat.”
Immediately that changed the entire dynamic. According to Jewish law when a person specifically asks for food, their needs must be met. I told him that I would not give him money but would buy him three meals for Shabbat. He left, to return ten minutes later with his roommate. To the consternation of the other families and the utter surprise of these two boys, I took them to the nearest “take out place” and bought them three meals for Shabbat.
When they were about to leave, laden with their food (and beer), one asked me why I spent so much money on them. I told him that since he has asked for food I was not allowed to refuse. He had never heard of that law, and asked me to educate him.
I replied, “I am a Conservative rabbi, I know that you will not accept Jewish law from me.”
He answered, “But you know the laws of Tzedakah.”
I smiled and said, “Now I know the Mashiach is near, when a Bratslaver Hasid asks a Conservative rabbi to teach him Jewish law, can the Mashiach be far away?”
Our tradition downplays the importance of intention in favor of action. You are, and you are judged by what you do, not what you intend to do. There are exceptions to this rule, one of them is Tzedakah. At first glance Tzedakah seems simple: someone gives money to someone else. However, Tzedakah is not only what you give, but how you give it as well.
The Messianic age will not arrive until we understand this lesson.