Recently, a new item was reported without much fanfare or reaction. Jeff Bezos, head of the gargantuan company Amazon, announced that he was making a large donation. How large was this donation, you wonder? 10 billion dollars! That’s enough money to turn ten thousand destitute people into millionaires, quite a hefty sum of shekels.
Now, you are undoubtedly curious to know what worthy cause this money was going to. What organization of importance would be the beneficiary of this magnanimous gift? Was it going to feed the starving people all over the world? Was it going to benefit the field of education? Perhaps it was going to be used for research in curing some of the dangerous illnesses that plague humanity. The correct answer is…none of the above.
What, then, pray tell, is this contribution going to be used for? None other than to make advances in the field of climatology. (Or is it climythology?) Yes, you read that correctly: to fight against climate change. Curiously enough, this news was reported without any excitement or approval. One would have thought that the liberal media would shower Bezos with praise for funding for such a “worthy cause” to donate to. After all, isn’t this one of the major ideals of the left? The answer wasn’t long in coming, as the reporter gave the reason for the donation.
You see, Bezos and his company are not held in high esteem by the climate people. Amazon has faced numerous protests by environmentalists due to its enormous carbon footprint. Because of its many deliveries, it is a major cause of air pollution. So, to create a good image for his company, he made this donation. In other words, this wasn’t an act of generosity at all. It was nothing more than a company decision to make this investment for improving public relations. Not only was the money wasted on a non-cause, it wasn’t even an act of kindness.
Running a distant second for the Squandered Money Award is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He decided that his time had come to run for president and he spent $600 million on bombarding Americans with advertisements of the blessings he will bring to the White House. Unfortunately, after Super Tuesday, Mr. Bloomberg came face-to-face with the reality that his campaign was going nowhere and all of his money that could have been used for truly important causes was sadly frittered away. Ironically, at the same time these announcements were made, I came across an inspiring story in stark contrast to the aforementioned incidents of wasted opportunity.
Rav Moshe Ahron Stern, mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz and grandson of Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman, once met Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, the Lomza rosh yeshiva, who related the following. The year was 1929, the time of the stock market crash, when America sank into the deep financial depression. Numerous American donors who had previously supported the yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel where now unfortunately bankrupt. Naturally, this had a major negative impact on the yeshiva’s financial situation, which deteriorated from day to day. At the time, there were close to 400 bochurim learning in the yeshiva.
One night, the hanhalas hayeshiva called an emergency meeting to see what could be done to save the yeshiva. At the meeting, the treasurer revealed that there was just enough money in the yeshiva’s account to supply the bochurim with a piece of bread and some water for the next morning’s breakfast. For anything past breakfast, they had not a penny, and that was only the food. They most certainly had no other money to pay the other bills that weren’t as pressing. The worst part was that there was no hope on the horizon.
It was decided that the yeshiva must take a drastic step. The next morning, immediately after Shacharis, the rosh yeshiva would stand up at the bimah and announce that right after breakfast, the bochurim should pack up their belongings and return home. The yeshiva was officially closing!
The next day after davening, the rosh yeshiva and the mashgiach looked at each other. The time had come, but neither of them was able to utter this terrible announcement. The bochurim had no idea what was planned and they went downstairs to the dining room to eat breakfast as usual. Afterwards, they returned to the bais medrash for first seder. The rosh yeshiva and mashgiach were in a quandary as to how to proceed. They both knew very well that they were incapable of providing the talmidim with lunch. What would they do?
“Let’s send someone to pick up the mail,” said the rosh yeshiva hopefully. “Maybe, despite everything, a check arrived for $20 or $30 and we will be able to provide at least one more meal.”
They sent someone out to get the mail and he returned quickly with a sealed envelope. They opened it up and could not believe what was before them. It was a check written out for $1,000 from a donor unfamiliar to them named Yaakov Yosef Herman. (Yes, that’s Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman of “All For the Boss” fame.)
At the time, $1,000 was a considerable amount of money, and it supported the yeshiva for the next month. After that time, the yeshiva’s financial situation changed for the better and it was able to continue keeping its doors open.
When Rav Moshe Ahron Stern heard the story about his illustrious grandfather, he asked him about it and he elaborated. His entire business went bankrupt during the depression. He was in the clothing market and he lost everything. Originally, he was a man of means, but now all he had left in his bank account was $1,300. He said to himself, “All of my money is gone. Let me at least salvage what I have left for Torah.” So, he sent $1,000 to the Lomza yeshiva and $250 he designated to start Yeshivas Tiferes Yerushalayim, where Rav Moshe Feinstein eventually became rosh yeshiva. At the time, the melamdim were wary of beginning this endeavor without any source of parnassah. This money gave them the chizuk to start the yeshiva. With the remaining $50, he printed the first calendar with the zeman of hadlokas neiros to help the Torahdige tzibbur bring in Shabbos.
Thirteen hundred dollars. Three investments. Three deposits for eternity. How many talmidim passed through the Lomza Yeshiva after Rav Yaakov Yosef made his donation and they passed their Torah on for generations? And what about the countless talmidim of Tiferes Yerushalayim and all of the Torah that they spread? And the chizuk in shemiras Shabbos, a covenant between us and Hakadosh Boruch Hu? Compare this to the pathetic squandering of money by the aforementioned billionaires.
We are rapidly approaching the Yom Tov of Pesach, when we will be sitting at the Seder and reliving the geulah experience when the Yidden left Mitzrayim. Hopefully, we will merit to rejoice this year in Yerushalayim with the final redemption. But even if we don’t merit the coming of Moshiach this year, each and every individual can be zoche to his own personal geulah from troubles or hardships, both in physical or spiritual matters. This takes weeks of preparation, as geulah requires of us to first come close to Hashem.
To this end, Chazal established specific parshiyos to be read and internalized to lead us into this great day. It begins with Parshas Shekolim to remind us to donate to the Bais Hamikdosh to give us a portion of the new cycle of the korbanos tzibbur. Later on comes Parshas Parah to remind us to purify ourselves in order to be able to partake of the Korban Pesach. Then comes Parshas Hachodesh, which instructs us about all of the mitzvos of Pesach.
It all begins with Parshas Shekolim, the donations to the Bais Hamikdosh. Because the first step in coming close to Hashem is opening up our hearts and giving up our money. While for some people it is difficult to part with their money, it is the easiest of all the steps forward, because it is not part of ourselves. Second comes purifying our bodies. This involves more than just being sprinkled with the ashes of the Parah Adumah or going to the mikvah. It takes a conscious effort to have a special awareness to stay away from matters that defile us both in body and soul. With today’s modern technology, this can be quite challenging, for even matters that seem innocuous to us and perfectly kosher are, in reality, a distraction from our avodah in moving forward to getting close to Hashem.
Finally, there is Parshas Hachodesh, which features the slaughtering of the Korban Pesach, the avodah zarah of the Mitzriyim. This took special courage on the part of Yidden, as they feared repercussions by the Mitzriyim to avenge the honor of their god. In performing this mitzvah, the Bnei Yisroel had to let go of any fear they had of the powerful Egyptians and totally rely on Hashem for protection. For us, practically speaking, this means reprogramming our mindset to place ourselves totally in the Hands of Hashem and strengthen our bitachon in Him.
But the entire process begins by opening our hearts through our donations. The root of the word rachmanus, compassion, is racheim, the letters reish, mem, ches. The gematria of these letters is 248, the number of limbs in our body. For if we have compassion for others, Hashem guards our bodies. These letters also spell rechem, a womb, for our chassodim give birth to yeshuos for ourselves and our families. It also spells mochor, tomorrow, for it brings a better future for those we help and for us in this world and in Olam Haba.
Conversely, if we do not show a sense of empathy for the less fortunate, these very same letters spell chamor, a donkey, the epitome of physicality that has no feelings for others. Such a person is also in cheirem, banished from being close to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, the Source of all compassion.
As Pesach approaches, there are unfortunately many amongst us who are dreading these happy days, for they cannot make ends meet during the rest of the year, let alone during Yom Tov, when the expenses are great for most people. They see the crowded streets and the stores buzzing with activity and excitement, but all they feel is worry and despair that they and their children will truly be eating lachma anya, real bread of affliction. They can’t afford new clothing for their children or the basic needs of Yom Tov. They suffer the embarrassment of seeing how others are wearing the latest styles, enjoying all of the savory dishes and treats of the festival, and they cannot provide any of these for their families.
In speaking to people while trying to raise funds for aniyim, it is evident that some of them just don’t get it. One hears questions like, “Why can’t they just get their act together?” and other “Why can’t theys.” People who are under constant stress of going hungry, being evicted from their homes, having their electricity turned off, or not getting proper medical care find it very hard to get up in the morning, let alone face the onslaught of bills and expenses. We should never know from such agitation.
As Yom Tov approaches, we can make a major advance in bonding with Hashem by first looking out for His children, our fellow Yidden. There are many organizations that are especially overloaded with families that need help before Yom Tov. In addition, we all know of friends, relatives or neighbors who desperately need financial help. We must learn to give even if it might strain our own pocketbooks a bit. In this merit, Hashem will send us blessings for this world and the next.