Keep the change

Friday, 11 February, 2022 - 2:19 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This week I was cc’ed to an email that inspired me.

Avi, a friend who lives in Israel, alerted our Chabad of Thailand Israel office that his one-time donation had been charged a second time. It seems that a bug in the computer system set up a recurring donation rather than a onetime one.

Our secretary conveyed our apologies and explained that it was a technology glitch. Avi was very understanding and forgiving. Regarding our offer to reimburse him the amount of the mistaken charge, he graciously responded that he would prefer to leave that as a donation. Once it was given to Tzedaka, even though it was unintentional, he didn’t want to take it back.

A few hours later Avi wrote to me to share an incredible Divine Providence.

Avi is working on a project memorializing Jewish life in the Polish town of Ostowiec (Ostrovtza) from before the war. As part of that project, he was translating some old testimonies that had been published in Yiddish and Hebrew in that village.

Just after Avi had said he wouldn’t take back the money from Tzedaka,`he ‘happened’ to translate the following story that took place in the Jewish community in prewar Poland.

‘We, (a group of teens) started a ‘Gemach’ (Gemilut Chassadim – interest free loans) Fund’. In 1914 we had 100 rubles of capital. Our loan amounts were between 6-10 rubles. I was the treasurer and held the cash and any objects that had been given as loan guarantees. Before Pesach 1914 we had given a 6-ruble loan to a wagon driver. He had given us his wife’s earing as a guarantee. A few weeks later when I checked the box of valuables the earrings were missing. We consulted with my father who said that as the treasurer, I must pay 30 rubles penalty and that we should try to negotiate with the wagon driver to accept that amount as compensation for losing the earrings. When we went to discuss the matter with the driver, we were pleasantly surprised. It turns out that he had asked for the earring back before Pesach so that his wife could go to Synagogue looking respectable. This was a very sweet ending as when I tried to return the 30 ruble that my father had given on my behalf, my father refused to accept it. He said that from Tzedaka you don’t take back. It should be added as a donation to the loan fund.’

Avi shared this with me with excitement. As literally an hour or so after he had said he would not take back money from the Tzedakah (even thought it was ‘mistaken’), he read this story from 1914 where that same concept was practiced.

This was inspiring to me. I contemplated sharing it in my weekly email but wasn’t sure.

Except that yesterday I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was an elderly woman who lives in Thailand, she is not Jewish but was asking me for the banking details of Chabad of Thailand Foundation to deposit a donation from her friend.  Here is what she told me.

I offered to help a friend who lives overseas redo the fading wording on their parents’ memorial stone at a cemetery in Thailand and my friend sent me money to cover the expenses. She sent me too much money though. I asked my friend whether she wanted me to send back the extra, or perhaps she wanted to give it to charity in Thailand. She chose to give it to several local charities. As she is Jewish, she asked that I give some to Chabad of Thailand.

Three encounters in one week of money that was not intended for Tzedakah, but once having left the account of the person the giver chose not to take it back. Rather it was reappropriated to Tzedakah.

This third story tipped the scales for me. Three stories in one week! I knew that I must share these stories and I must find the message contained therein.

Surely if I reflected on these stories, I would find a connection to the weekly Parsha. For the Alter Rebbe taught that we should ‘live with the times’ i.e. we should find our lessons for contemporary life, in the weekly Torah portion.

This week’s parsha Tetzaveh, is the only portion since Moshe’s birth at the beginning of the book of Exodus, that his name is not mentioned.

It is not just by chance. It is a result of something Moshe said.

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem was so displeased with the Jewish People that He proposed to start a new Jewish people from Moshe. When Moshe heard this, he reacted with an ultimatum saying, that either Hashem must forgive the Jews, ‘and if not wipe me out of the book that You have written’. In other words, either have compassion on this nation by forgiving them and continuing the Jewish people with them, or take me out of the picture.

Hashem did forgive the Jews based on Moshe’s entreaties.

If you follow the exact wording of the ultimatum, this meant that Moshe could ‘stay in the book’ of the Torah.

Our Sages tell us, that since Moshe had uttered those words, ‘erase me from the book’, some residual affect did remain. He is symbolically not mentioned in one portion of the Torah.

The portion in which his name is absent, is this week’s portion. (The Sages point out that this is also providential, as the reading of this ‘Moshe’less’ Parsha is in close proximity to the day of his passing).

Does this sound like a punishment? Moshe’s name is taken out of one parsha because he ‘stood up’ on behalf of his people?

In light of the above stories I had an interesting thought. Perhaps following through on being omitted from the ‘book’ (in a very reduced way) was actually Moshe’s will.

Moshe had ‘given’ the greatest ‘tzedaka’ possible to his people. He had said I will remove myself if my people is not saved. The sacrifice Moshe was prepared to make on behalf of his people was an epic ‘tzedaka’ gift!

Now Hashem has said that he is going forgive the people and thus according to the ‘deal’ Moshe proposed, his name can stay in the Torah.

Perhaps Moshe says, I don’t want to take back that Tzedaka that I have  given.

A compromise is reached. Moshe’s name is omitted from one Parsha.

Once we are discussing this topic, let’s try to analyse, what  was Hashem’s view of Moshe’s act of sacrifice?

Was it viewed by Him as ‘chutzpah’ G-d forbid? I mean, Moshe did give an ultimatum after all. Is that the way one should speak to G-d?

The opposite is true. We see in the final words of the Torah how Hashem cherished and lauded Moshe for this heroic self-sacrifice.

Click here for an article that explains the breaking of the tablets, a similarly bold undertaking of Moshe.

In Hashem’s eyes (so to speak) Moshe’s statement was the statement of the ultimate Jewish leader. A leader who puts himself aside on behalf of his people. Being that these are G-d’s children that Moshe is caring for, Hashem is ‘happy’ to hear that Moshe is ready to forego everything on their behalf.

The message to us?

You got an unexpected windfall? A reimbursement? The money is out of your domain?

Redirect it to Tzedaka to help others.

When you have undertaken to do something good, don’t walk back on it.

You committed verbally to do something nice for someone?

Make good on it. How often do people say ‘lets stay in touch’ and then not do anything about it. Or make a commitment like ‘I am going to take you out for coffee…’ and then promptly forget about it. (If you are in Bangkok, JCafe is a great place for coffee and schmooze 😊 ).

Make good on your verbal commitments.

Furthermore, even if you only had a good THOUGHT to do something good, take yourself seriously and ACT on it.

And while we can’t be as great as Moshe, we can certainly try to act more ‘Moshe’like’ and learn to put ourselves on the side on behalf of others.

With blessing of Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS in honor of the month of Adar, where anguish was turned to joy, I share this below link. It is a story that inspired me deeply, and I trust that you too will be likewise touched.

From Con Man to Chassid – the true story of Pinchas ben Peretz Halevi

May we all be motivated to have the courage to transform ourselves, from good to even gooder.

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