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Monday, 6 February 2017

Stop semi-volunteering!

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 11

 ‘Knock, knock,’ came the sound at the door.

Morris, the banker in the town of Belz, opened the door to find the Rebbe on his doorstep.
“Come in, come in, Rebbe.  Please take a seat.  Can I offer the Rebbe a drink?”  The Belzer Rebbe sat down, but did not utter a word in response.  Morris sat down opposite the Rebbe and waited for him to begin the conversation and explain the reason for his unexpected appearance.  He waited and waited but still not a word was spoken.  Finally, after ten minutes – which felt like an eternity – the Rebbe got up, said goodbye, and left the house.

Morris was completely confused.  Why had the Rebbe come?  Why had he not said anything?  Determined to resolve his curiosity, he visited the Rebbe’s gabbai (attendant) and told him the strange story.  The gabbai promised to help Morris get to the bottom of the mystery. 

An hour later, the gabbai returned to Morris and conveyed the Rebbe’s message:  Our Sages teach that the same way that it is a mitzvah to tell one’s friend something he will listen to, it is likewise a mitzvah not to tell him something he will not listen to. 
“The Rebbe had something important to tell you, but he knew you would not listen and so he came over to your house to fulfill the mitzvah of not telling you something you would not heed.”

Morris could not control himself any longer and rushed over to the shtiebel (prayer-house) to find out what the Rebbe wanted from him.
“I’m sorry,” said the Rebbe, “I simply cannot divulge the purpose of my visit.  I know you will not heed my words and it is therefore a mitzvah for me not to tell you.”
“I promise, I promise,” pleaded Morris, “I will do whatever the Rebbe instructs.  Just please tell me!” 

After much begging, finally the Rebbe acquiesced. 
“There is a widow in town whose house is about to enter foreclosure.  She just lost her job and her savings are all depleted.  She will lose her home and has nowhere to go with her five little children.  I wanted to ask you to forgive her loan, but I knew that you would never listen and so I chose not to tell you,” explained the Rebbe.
“But, but, Rebbe,” Morris stammered, “I can’t forgive the loan, I’m just the bank manager.  It’s not my money to forgive.  My job is simply to approve the mortgages and run the branch.”
The Rebbe shook his head.  “I’m sorry I brought it up.  I should have gone with my original thought.”  With that, the Rebbe buried his head in the Gemara.

That night, Morris couldn’t sleep.  Tossing and turning, he finally decided that if the bank would not help this poor widow, he would have to assist personally.  The next morning, he wrote a cheque for the outstanding loan.  The widow and her children were saved from life on the streets and the Rebbe accomplished his true mission.

They told the following story about Binyamin the Righteous who was in charge of the charity fund: One time during the years of famine a woman came and said, “Sustain me, o teacher!”
“I swear,” he responded, “there’s no nothing in the coffers.”
“If you don’t sustain me, o teacher,” she replied, “a woman and her seven children will die.”
He arose and sustained her from his own pocket.

Some time later, he took ill and was going to die. 
The angels said before the Holy One blessed be He, “Master of the universe, You said anyone who saves a single Jewish life is considered as if he saved an entire world.  Binyamin who saved a woman and her seven children should die after such short years?!”  They immediately tore up the decree.  It was taught that he lived an additional twenty two years.

Binyamin the Righteous understood his personal responsibility.  Morris the banker eventually got it.  True, according to the strict letter of the law, they weren’t obligated to provide for these women.  But if Hashem placed them in a certain circumstance, He clearly expected them to step up to the plate.

Some people are incredible community volunteers.  And yet, their dedication will only go up to a certain point.  It’s almost like a job for them.  They’re here to be of service to the community – to organize events, coordinate resources, even raise funds – but then they go home to their own personal lives.

Not Binyamin the Righteous.  His attitude was: if there are insufficient charity funds in the box, I’d better come up the difference.  If I can’t raise that money, it’s going to have to come out of my own pocket.  That’s the real meaning of community service – becoming a true servant to the community and being willing to put yourself and your own personal resources on the line when duty calls.

How do you do that?  You have to become one with the institution you’re dedicated to.  The organization’s success is your success.  Its greatness is your greatness.  Impossible is not an option. 

If your own kids were starving, G-d forbid, would you allow them to suffer for a moment?  Of course not!  You would ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ to gather the funds to feed them.  And so if you’re in charge of the tzedakah fund, there’s no such thing as responding ‘I’m sorry, we have no money to feed these orphans.’  You figure it out somehow.

Of course it’s not just about people’s material and physical needs, the same is true of their spiritual needs.  If you couldn’t afford to give your own kids a good Jewish education, would you simply say, ‘Okay, it’s not that important?’  Certainly not!  And so if you’re dedicated to Jewish education, that’s the attitude you need to have for every Jewish child.


Everything is possible as long you’re dedicated to the cause.  It’s time to stop seeing your volunteerism as a job and start taking personal responsibility for the mission the Almighty has entrusted you with.  May you be unable to sleep at night due to your concern for Klal Yisrael!