Enhancing Rosh Hashana

I would like to deal with a halachik question which applies to all of us

Echad L'echad Foundation,

Enhancing Rosh Hashana
Enhancing Rosh Hashana
Photo: PR

I would like to deal with a halakhic question which applies to all of us. The days preceding Rosh Hashana and in particular during Aseret Yemei teshuva are days of doing more chessed and giving more tzedaka.

Today, b”H, there are many great organizations which either distribute food baskets or distribute hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash or food stipends. Is there a halachic preference between a food basket and a food stipend?

The Gemara in masechet Taanit 23a recounts a story about Aba Chilkia, the grandson of Choni Hamaagel, who was a great tzaddik. When there was a need for rain the rabbinical leaders would go to Aba Chilkia to daven. We won’t go into all of the details about when Aba Chilkia would daven for rain, and when the rain would begin to fall, but rather focus on why it was his wife and not him who was answered from above.

The Rabbis decided to look into the matter and indeed found a very interesting explanation. Aba Chilkia related to the Rabbis that his wife, who is in the home, gives bread to the poor, and are immediately satiated, having no need to trouble themselves to find food. When he himself gives to the poor, it is in the form of money and so they still need to go and find their own food. From this gemara it seems, at first glance, that there is a preference to give food baskets to the needy as opposed to money.

However, it seems that the reality has changed b”H for the better. Firstly, poor people today are not starving nor are they in a life threatening situation. Secondly, today it is not difficult to find food; Every supermarket has an abundance of food.

There is a worry sometimes that by giving poor people money or food stipends they will spend it on cigarettes or alcohol. This is certainly a valid fear. With the families that we are familiar with through the Echad L’Echad Foundation, however, there is no such fear whatsoever. Even though we are talking about thousands of needy families, we still do our utmost to check into each and every case. The overwhelming majority are wonderful families whose children's education is very important to them but due to difficult situations and hardships in making a living they are forced, to their dismay, to rely on others for the time being.

The commandment to give tzedaka is not to try to get rid of your scraps of food and vegetables, rather to give a poor person what he is lacking! It is clear then, that the preferred type of tzedaka is to give the needy the ability to buy for themselves what they are lacking.

It’s true that one can end up buying more than just the necessities like chocolate or soft drinks. So what? If parents think that this will make their family happy, are they not allowed? Isn’t this what they are lacking?

Within the levels of tzedeka there is another preference; when the poor person doesn’t know who he received from and the giver doesn’t know who he gave to. Obviously, this level of giving can only be done by distributing food stipends or money through an organization as opposed to families needing to wait in line or at home for a food basket. Consequently, the most preferable way to donate is online because all of the donations are hidden from the eyes of the receiver.

Therefore, according to my humble opinion, it is appropriate to give food stipends or money and not food baskets. Here at the Echad L’Echad Foundation we are very strict about respecting the needy and allowing them to acquire for themselves what they are lacking.

I would like to close with a story I experienced as Rosh Yeshiva. The Pesach break began and while all of the other students went home, one student remained in his dorm room. I asked him what he was still doing here and I will never forget his response: “My mother makes me stand in line each day at a different line distributing food baskets and I can’t handle the embarrassment.”

Let’s enhance Rosh Hashana by providing for those in need in a way which makes them feel dignified and respected and receive what they are lacking.

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