«Jewish Observer»
May 2002
5762 Sivan

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The world recognizes a fundamental law, which we could call "restriction on enjoyment from an underserved gift", and in the Jewish tradition this principle is called a ban on "bread of shame".

Agada explains this principle on the example of the following parable. There once lived a tsar who had absolutely everything. One day walking around his palace h saw a poor man sitting on the ground. "I am unhappy, - said the latter, - for I have nothing: neither food nor clothes or home". "It's so wonderful I've met you, - said the tsar. - I long wished to award somebody, to give something to him but I had nobody to. I'll give you everything". The tsar took the poor man to his palace and ordered his servants to give his guests everything he would ask for, so the man lived in the palace and had everything he asked for.

Some time later tsar came to him and asked "You get everything you wish. Are you happy?" The poor man answered, "On the contrary, I am totally unhappy, because everything I have here I do not deserve. Actually, any my action in life is senseless. What I receive here is a gift, "bread of shame", bringing no satisfaction".

Thus, "bread of shame" in the Jewish tradition means something underserved which a man cannot receive enjoyment from. Though, a man can experience the lowest, primitive enjoyment from an undeserved gain. In any case, a man "deserves" the right to breathe, drink and eat. But the level of this enjoyment is restricted by the needs of physical existence simply not to die. As soon as a man's desire starts growing, the restriction on "bread of shame" immediately comes into force. Since God wishes to award a man with a true good, it cannot be an underserved "bread of shame". Apparently, if a parable tsar had realized this he would have enabled the poor man to work and rewarded him according to his achievements. God treats a man in this way.

Recently, a Jewish woman of about seventy-five came to the cabinet of General Director of Jewish Foundation of Ukraine Arkady Monastirsky. She told him and the author of this article about her trip to Israel and the USA. She wanted to see her relatives. The lady looked rather well - to-do. All fingers were dressed in gold rings with precious jewels. But, suddenly, her glance caught a box with matzos, and she began telling this year the hesed had presented her with matzos of a worse quality she wanted. Both Arkady Monastirsky and me tried to assure her matzos of this year were of excellent quality, they were even dispatched to Moscow and faraway Argentine.

- No, you do not understand - said she. - Matzos were thick. American or Israeli matzos are better. Why don't you bring them from abroad?

- And why don't you buy matzos you like? - I answered.

- What for? Hesed distributes them free of charge.

Arkady and me, both are members of Board of Guardians of Kiev Hesed, exchanged glances and the same thought visited us. We in our Jewish community seem to do something wrong if 10 years past revival of the city Jewish community many Kiev Jews are convinced matzos are not to be bought. Hesed will provide them with free matzos. Synagogue needs no tsdaka, Rabbi will bring the money with himself. A ticket for a Jewish concert is free. "Joint" and "Sokhnut" are generous. People even grudge two hryvnas on the subscription to a Jewish newspaper. A Jewish proverb runs: the longest way is the one to one's own purse. We witness a rise of a consumer's stereotype. It will soon be difficult to imagine Hesed's support is meant not for all Jews - pensioners but only for those really in need.

Foreign financing of heseds has significantly subsided this year. It sometimes painfully hits poor Jews who can't do without a charitable lunch and food parcel. I hear very few complaints namely from them. Our community's ombudsman asserts the same. The loudest complaints are heard from Jews with decent pensions, well-off children and grand-children, normal flats and countryside cottages. These people could safely do without food parcels meant for the lonely poor old. But matzos are thick, parcel is small, free lunch at the canteen is not tasty enough and a concern at the "Ukraine" palace is too long namely for them.

Everybody understands money for all our community programs comes from the same Jews as we are. Yes, they live in better conditions, they are better-off. But we shouldn't be cunning. The Jewish law demands from each of us a 10 per cent profit on charity. 10 per cent remain 10 per cent irrespective of earnings. According to our tradition, a pauper is also obliged to allot 10 per cent of his alms. Are many of us ready to part with our own 10 per cent? If this were so, there would be no problems to finance the community newspaper, to care about Jewish burial places on cemeteries, to help single mothers, orphans and temporarily unemployed.

We shouldn't endlessly pin our hope onto help from abroad. It is not excluded foreign aid will keep decreasing to terminate once. Everybody should now decide by himself whom to be: a free and responsible member of the Jewish community or...

Theodor Hertsl once said, "People's spirit can be undermined namely by alms". Rabbi Desler added another time, "The moment a man becomes only a recipient, he goes down to an animal level; to be happy on this way is impossible".

We've just marked a bright Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the holiday of Torah's granting. After these festivities I call on every Jew to make his our contribution, to donate his personal tsdaka to a synagogue, Jewish community or to help another Jew. The amount is of no importance. Everybody is free to make his own choice proceeding from his abilities. Let each of us learn in practice- to give tsdaka is by far more pleasant than to receive it.


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