Rick used to be the CEO of a successful mortgage company in town. Unfortunately with the collapse of the sub-prime market, Rick and his wife Rachel fell upon hard times. They lost their own home and could no longer afford the day-school tuition for their kids. “Don’t worry about it,” said the chairman of the school. “We feel for you, man. The kids should definitely stay in the school on full scholarship.”
When I heard this story, I was surprised. Just a year ago, I had fought to keep the Goldberg kids in the school. They had been on partial scholarships for a number of years as the parents worked two jobs each to afford their kids a Jewish education. When Sam Goldberg took ill and could no longer keep up the heavy work schedule, they could no longer afford to pay the partial amount. The chairman of the board called to tell me that everybody had to pay something and if they couldn’t afford a basic amount, there was no room for these poor children in his school.
Rabbi Ami bar Tavyumi says that one may not cover a sukkah with a worn out piece of cloth. Abaye explains that Rabbi Ami refers to patches less than the size of three fingerbreadths by three fingerbreadths, a shmatteh that would be useless to rich or poor people. Even poor people, who might keep pieces of material to patch up their clothes, would not hang on to such small pieces.
Now that these pieces are no longer useful to anyone, one would assume that they revert to their status of raw materials and would be fit for use for schach to cover the sukkah. Rabbi Ami teaches us that since they were once part of a garment, they retain their original status as manufactured items and are not fit to be used as schach.
Why does Abaye need to mention that these pieces are useless to rich people? Obviously if they’re useless to poor people, then how much more so they’d be useless to rich people!
How do we treat successful, rich people who have taken a hit? We feel bad and we want to be able to help them get back on their feet. How about their children that are struggling in school or in life? We invest resources in them to bring them up to speed. Do we treat people from less well-to-do backgrounds with the same care and attention? Or do we dismiss them, because after all, how much can we expect from them based on where they’re coming from?
Says Rabbi Ami, if you’re according a worn out cloth of a rich person its original status, then why should you not do the same to a poor person? After all, every individual, rich or poor, has a very important original status as ‘created in the image of G-d’!
Today, I pledge to treat everyone with the same care and attention. If someone is suffering or stumbling, it doesn’t matter whether they have fallen from a high place or a low place, I will do whatever I can to lift them up.