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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Packaging our product

Daf Yomi Gittin 52

Reb Itchele was one of the major fundraisers for Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Poland.   He would spend months on the road at a time, going from city to city, town to town, and shtetl to shtetl collecting for the yeshiva.  He had been doing the rounds for years and he was well known in all the major Jewish communities.
In Bialystok, each year he would visit a certain Reb Feivel.  Reb Feivel was well-to-do and would always write out a significant check to the yeshiva.  On one such occasion, Reb Itchele showed up at the home of Reb Feivel, but this year was different.  Reb Feivel opened the door and was shocked by what he saw.

“Clearly I’ve been giving too much to the yeshiva!” cried Reb Feivel.  “Look at you!  A brand new Chaim Boss suit!  A beautiful new Ferrarische wagon!  And look at those ferden!  Such gorgeous horses I haven’t seen in my life!  Be gone from here, you obviously don’t need my donation; look at where my money’s going!”
Reb Itchele held the door back from being slammed in his face. “Reb Feivel, you misunderstand.  Let me explain.  Your money didn’t pay for any of this.  Your money went straight to pay for the poor yeshiva bochurim.  Why?  Because you appreciate the pnimiyus – the real reason to give for the support of Torah!  Unfortunately there are many others out there who don’t appreciate the importance of Torah learning.  They won’t give to a poor, nebbish looking meshulach (collector).  It’s their money that goes to paying for these silly accoutrements! 

Amram Tzava was the administrator for an estate belonging to orphans.  Their relatives came before Rav Nachman and said to him, “He is clothing and adorning himself from the property of the orphans!”
Rav Nachman responded, “He is doing so, in order that his words be heeded.”
Rashi explains: By dressing finely, he is doing a service to the orphans, in that he presents himself as a person of importance, and therefore able to conduct their business affairs more effectively.

Sometimes we feel that we should avoid spending on ‘extras’ that are not part of the core services of our non-profit institutions.  The purpose of a shul is to be a place to daven.  The purpose of a school or yeshiva is to be a place to learn.  Why waste money on fancy flyers and web-sites?  If people have donated money to our cause, are we not abusing their donations when we spend it on tchotchkes?

Rav Nachman explains that some people are a little shallow.  Unfortunately, if we want them to hear the message, we need to package it with bells and whistles.  They’re not interested in paying attention to what we have to offer until they sense that it meets their exterior standards.  In our case, they associate tradition with backwardness.  And so unless we can present the Torah in the best light possible, they’ll simply ignore the important message we have to offer.

That’s why our brochures must look awesome!  Our websites must look spectacular!  Our services must be exciting!  Our classes must be innovative and creative!  Our kids programs must be cutting edge! 

All of these accoutrements may seem like the institution is wasting your hard-earned tzedakah dollars.  But rest assured, your money ends up in the right place.  Because you are giving with the right intention.   Those who give for external reasons – their money ends up on externalities.  The Almighty makes sure that all funds are apportioned appropriately, depending upon the motivations of the various givers.

It would be nice if people simply flocked to hear the wisest talmid chacham.  But they don’t.  They come to hear the most entertaining speaker who had the best marketing.   Unless we’re willing to play that game, we’re going to miss out on all those people who don’t appreciate pnimiyus – inner spiritual beauty.  May we merit attracting as many souls as possible to hear the truth of the Message!  

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