My son was donating money to everyone except his needy sister
Zecharya: You’re so generous with everyone else in town. You can’t help your own family?
Aryeh: Why are you pushing me to enable destructive behavior?
IT was the first of the month, and sure enough, Rikki was calling. I kind of expected it by now.
“Hi, Ta, how are you?” She sounded breezy, asking how I was doing, Ma, work, telling me the kids’ latest antics.
Then, predictably, she cleared her throat. “Uh, Ta? So, the thing is, I feel so bad to ask you…”
I sighed. “The rent.”
Rikki made a small noise of agreement. “Right.”
“How much are you short?” I asked her.
She hesitated. “Um, a lot… like, kind of the whole amount.”
I bit my lip. “Let me see what I can do,” I said.
“Oh, Ta, thanks so, so much,” Rikki said. “We — it’s really tough right now. Hopefully with Pinny’s new job, it will get easier, but obviously, we still need to pay the rent this month.”
When I hung up the phone, I finally allowed myself a heavy sigh.
ikki’s my youngest. The bas zekunim, born eight years after Devora. Maybe that had something to do with the whole… situation.
Baruch Hashem, our six older children are married, settled. We supported them all for the first year or so after marriage, but it was a struggle, and we couldn’t do any longer than that. They were fine, though. They moved back from Israel, or they found ways to make it work, they found their footing, got a job, or, in the case of our second son, Aryeh, ended up taking over his father-in-law’s business and becoming very successful there.
Rikki was different. She was the last one we married off, we had a bit more “breathing space,” and somehow, we ended up giving her a lot more financial support, for a lot longer. Maybe it was the fact that she seemed to need it more. She’d gotten married young, still 19, didn’t have any savings or fallback or a completed degree like her sisters had had when they got married. She found a job in Israel, working a couple hours a day as a gan assistant, but as she told us, “The salary barely covers the bus ride there and back.”
Pinny, her husband, was a nice guy, friendly and outgoing and very eager to please, and they seemed happy together. He thanked us for our help, seemed grateful to get to stay in kollel, and we were happy to do what we could to support that.
They moved back after having their second child — Rikki didn’t want to live so far from family anymore. We helped them find a house to rent, paid for the first few months so they could get settled, and expected things to fall into place: Pinny would find a job, Rikki would work part-time, and of course, our full-time support would be over. To be honest, I was relieved about that; the expenses kept on rising with the cost of living skyrocketing, we were nearing retirement, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could have kept up fully supporting Rikki’s family, in any case.
Somehow, though, it seemed to be difficult for them to find their feet.
Pinny found a job, lost it a month later. At one point, Rikki was talking excitedly about a new business her husband was opening, then just as suddenly, it fell off the map and we never heard of it again. Some months, they seemed to be getting by; other times she would call me crying that she needed help paying for basic necessities.
I knew Rikki was working part-time, and as the years went by and her family grew, it was a struggle for her. Pinny was eternally optimistic; always excited and eager to try something new, “this time it’s going to work out.” And while I admired his positive attitude, I hoped things would actually start working out for them to be able to have a stable income.
In the meantime, while I wasn’t technically supporting them anymore, Rikki called me often, mostly on the days rent was due. When I could, I helped. If it wasn’t all the money, it was some of it, at least.
It was my daughter, my grandchildren. What could I do? I couldn’t leave them to get evicted from their home.
hat should we do?” I asked my wife, Liba, rhetorically. “We have to help her, it won’t help anyone if she falls apart…”
“But we don’t have,” Liba said. “This is our retirement fund, how can we keep bailing her out?”
She wanted to help, of course she did, but she was also genuinely worried. She was probably right to be.
“We’ll do what we can,” I said finally.
“But what if we can’t?”
I shook my head. “It’s such a mess. I wish we could just buy them a house, set them up that way, so they’re not scrambling for rent money every month.”
Liba bit her lip. “Aryeh could, you know,” she blurted.
Of course he could; he could probably buy them two houses.
But we’ve never mixed into the way our children spend their money. The old saying, “Purses open, mouths closed,” has served us well. We have great relationships with our married children and children-in-law, probably unusually good. I credit that to us never telling them what to do, how to spend money, just giving without demanding or negotiating or prying.
It’s worked until now. But I wished there were a way for me to bring up the subject with Aryeh.
he opportunity came sooner than I thought.
It was a dinner, of all things, one of those huge fundraising things that I’d never dreamed of attending until our own son began getting honored at them.
Aryeh and Shaindy invited us to attend, and it was nice to revel in the nachas, hearing the way the rosh yeshivah spoke about our son and his dedicated support — and more so, seeing his humility, the way Aryeh reacted to the speeches and praise. He didn’t seem affected by the kavod, still his regular, on-the-quiet-side self, and when he went up to receive an award, he thanked the rosh yeshivah quietly and then slipped back off the dais to his seat.
He’s a good person, my son.
Maybe I could talk to him about Rikki’s financial difficulties.
After all, he definitely had the money to spare.
Aryeh and Shaindy drove us home after the dinner, and on the spur of the moment, I asked Aryeh if we could speak privately for a few minutes.
“Of course, Tatty,” he said. “Do you want to go inside, or come back to my house…?”
“I don’t want to make Shaindy wait,” I said, nodding to my daughter-in-law. “Let’s go back to your house, I’ll speak to you there.”
We sat down in his study. The room was one of the nicest in their (very, very nice) house: understated elegance, sleek furniture, a beautiful painting on the wall. They’d remodeled recently; the living area was huge, expansive, and beautiful, and the kitchen even I knew would be classified as state-of-the-art. Aryeh was really living in a different sphere from the rest of the family.
I could tell him about Rikki, ask if he could help her out somehow.
Aryeh offered me a drink from the small fridge built into his desk, and over cups of seltzer, I told him about Pinny and Rikki’s financial straits. How they were constantly trying to get things together, but failing. How I ended up paying the shortfall in their rent every month. How every extra expense — therapy, Yom Tov, repairs, a large bill — threw them for a loop.
“I’m doing what I can for them, but I just don’t have the means to set them up long term,” I said. “I wish I could give them a larger investment, a property, set them on their feet, and I was thinking… well, I was actually wondering whether you’re in a position to do something for them.”
I felt deeply uncomfortable asking him; I’d never asked my children for money like this before. But Rikki was his sister, he gave thousands to tzedakah, and surely he would want to know something like this, so he could help out.
Aryeh nodded when I finished speaking. His face was inscrutable, but he didn’t look surprised. I wondered, suddenly, if Rikki had already reached out to him.
“You… knew about this?” I asked him outright.
Aryeh gave a vague nod. “I knew something, and I did help them out at one point… thanks for telling me, Ta. I need to think about it, but in the meantime, here’s something you can give them, just please, don’t tell them it’s from me. I prefer it that way.”
the way home, I peeked into the envelope that Aryeh had given me. One, two… five 100-dollar bills stared back at me.
Five hundred dollars?
I’ll admit that I was a little… disappointed.
Five hundred dollars was maybe a week or two of groceries. It was a fraction of what they needed just to get through the month. It was certainly not the kind of long-term, large-scale help I’d been envisioning.
And Aryeh clearly had more money than that to give.
But I didn’t say a word. It’s not my business how adult children spend their money, I reminded myself.
I gave the envelope to Rikki the next time she needed money for something urgent. A few days later, she called again, so I guess it went fast.
I still wished Aryeh would rethink, would swoop in to save his sister’s family. From the word on the street, from the buildings he donated and the way people stopped me to sing his praises, I knew he was giving generously — everywhere but here.
But it wasn’t my place to say anything. I knew that it wasn’t.
nd then Rikki and Pinny came over. Together.
“We got a babysitter,” Rikki explained, “We really need to speak to you, Ta.”
My heart rate sped up. Was this… bad news of some kind? But my children didn’t seem upset, in fact, Pinny looked more eager and excited than usual.
“So, we really appreciate everything the shver does for us,” he said, using the formal term of address which immediately made me wonder what was up. “And you know, we don’t want to keep relying on it, asking for help. Baruch Hashem, I’ve been offered an opportunity that seems really, really promising, and I think, with Hashem’s help, it will make all the difference, now and in the future.”
Wow, what a speech. My lips twitched a little, but he was so sincere, and had clearly put so much thought into how he would present his case, I didn’t want him to think I was laughing at him.
“That sounds really good, Pinny,” I said. “It’s been our pleasure to support you where we could, and I really wish you hatzlachah with this new… job, did you say?”
Pinny’s eyes flickered to Rikki, then back again. He cleared his throat. “Not… not a job, exactly,” he admitted. “More like… an investment opportunity.”
I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.
Rikki took up the ball. “Basically, it’s a very solid investment, we looked into it, it’s a group of guys, and they’re offering Pinny to join, but he needs to put in, well, a lot of money,” she said. “The thing is, we don’t want to take it as a gift, we just want a loan, because it’s really a solid investment, and as soon as we start seeing returns on it, we can pay back the loan. It’s just… we really don’t have this start-up funding available.”
“How much?” I asked, even though I knew I didn’t have much to offer them.
“Fifty K,” Rikki and Pinny said together.
Fifty thousand dollars.
“I wish I could help you,” I said, apologetically. “I just don’t have that kind of money to lend. Maybe you can ask…” Inspiration struck. Aryeh! Here, he could help. They were just asking for a loan, they could do it with an official agreement, terms and everything… he almost certainly had the funds available. “Have you thought of asking Aryeh? He’s in business, I’m sure you could work something out with him…”
Rikki’s face turned stony, and even Pinny lost his air of excitement for a moment.
“We asked him,” Rikki said. Her voice was cold, but I could hear the hurt beneath the surface. “He wouldn’t lend us the money.”
aybe, I thought, this was something I could speak to Aryeh about myself.
I didn’t even have to say that Rikki had told me he refused. I could simply tell him how they’d asked me for the money, and I didn’t have the capacity to lend it, see if he would change his mind.
“Ta, did Pinny tell you what the investment actually was?” Aryeh asked me, when I told him the story.
“Not much,” I admitted. “But they seemed very confident that it was solid, people that they trust…”
Aryeh sighed. “Look, Ta, I don’t want to say anything, I might be wrong, but Rikki asked me about this already, and to me, it didn’t sound like a responsible investment. I just wasn’t comfortable with giving out a loan for something so shaky.”
That made sense, but…
“You know,” I said, a little hesitantly. “I don’t know about your situation, of course, but if you have the means for it… to present something as a loan, but look at it as tzedakah, so that if you’re right, and they’re unable to pay back the investment…” I fell silent, uncomfortable to push him further.
But I was thinking, You give these huge sums, hundreds of thousands of dollars… when Menachem’s school had that fundraiser, you donated $250,000… isn’t this something you can do for Rikki?
“Ta, I hear you, I understand the situation,” Aryeh said. “I actually did give them some money already, but I’m sorry, I can’t do more than that…”
He gave some money?
I called Rikki later, to tell her that I was sorry, but I couldn’t help out.
“Aryeh mentioned he gave you some money toward this?” I couldn’t help but ask.
She sniffed. “He gave us 5K, it’s like, a fraction of what we need. And if we don’t have 50K by tomorrow, we lose the chance of investing. For now, they’re holding it for Pinny, but they won’t be able to for much longer…”
I felt so helpless. I just wished I had the money, that I could give them this chance to dig themselves out of the mess.
But I didn’t. And the only family member who had access to such money was adamantly refusing to give it.
got even worse.
Two days before Purim, Rikki called. She sounds close to tears.
“Ta? Can you talk to Aryeh?”
“About the loan? I already—”
“No,” she cut me off. Her voice was hard. “About the fact that he’s telling his friends, all his wealthy business associates and whatever, not to lend us the money, either.”
My mouth actually fell open. “Whaaat? He did that? Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Rikki stated it flatly. “One of them told Pinny so, outright. He was going to give us the loan, or maybe half the amount. Whatever, he said to call him back the next day, and when Pinny called him, he said that in the end he couldn’t. He basically told us that he worked with Aryeh, and Aryeh hadn’t thought the investment was a good idea. So he didn’t want to get involved.”
I was just as upset as Rikki. Fine, he didn’t want to lend the money himself. But to mix in with other people, ruin Pinny and Rikki’s chances like that because of his opinions? How could he do this? Was he really so blinded by his own success that he felt like he had the right to micromanage other people’s investments?
nd then it was Purim.
As usual, we invited all our children for the Purim seudah, grandchildren piling in on a sugar high, colorful costumes and cellophane-wrapped mishloach manos and oh, so much candy.
Liba prepared a ton of food and everyone took seats around the table, on the sofa, or even — in the case of some of the older grandsons — on the floor. The atmosphere was leibedig, singing, lots of banter, some hilarious entertainment from the tipsy men and boys.
And then Aryeh arrived.
“Here comes the gvir!” Kalman, my oldest son-in-law, trumpeted.
“Glad you made it, I passed your place earlier and the lines were going down the street,” Menachem teased.
Someone began singing, “Oh, if I were a rich man,” very off-key.
Aryeh, who was completely sober, rolled his eyes. “Funny, all of you. Hi, Ma, Ta, simchas Purim. Shaindy brought you a mishloach manos, it’s in the kitchen.”
Smart move, hide it away in the kitchen before anyone made more snarky comments about his money. It was probably something beautiful, classy, and very expensive. I knew he didn’t want to give us any less than he gave his business associates, but he also didn’t want to stand out in front of the others.
Ezra pulled over a chair for Aryeh. “I heard you gave ten grand to Rabbi what’s-his-face from the new yeshivah, you made his night.”
Kalman snorted. “Oh, c’mon, Ez, that’s small change. He sponsored the new mikveh in the shul, 10K is nothing.”
Aryeh looked desperately uncomfortable.
I stole a glance over to Rikki. Her face had two splotches of red. Pinny was nowhere to be seen.
I didn’t say anything. But I couldn’t help but think: You give away thousands. To everyone but your sister.
If I could tell Aryeh one thing, it would be: The mitzvah of tzedakah applies to Mishpacha. How can you watch your sister suffer while you give tens of thousands away to others?
They say being poor has challenges, and being rich also does, but who are we kidding? Everyone wants the nisayon of being rich.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s harder, or worse. I don’t think it is. But easy? Simple? Definitely not.
It’s a huge zechus to give. But do you know how many needs there are, how many tzaros, stories, people, pain? Klal Yisrael has so many needs, and baruch Hashem, we’re also blessed with so many resources. But there’s always another kollel, yeshivah, chesed organization, tzedakah campaign, tragedy, simchah, or just regular people in need of something. Something that I can give them.
When my business took off and I found myself in the blessed position of “giver” (not gvir — that word feels so ugh to me, like the misers in the shtetl stories who use their money to control the whole town), I sat down with my rav for a meeting that lasted over two hours. I got guidance and guidelines how to manage my tzedakah money. Ever since then, I work with a gabbai tzedakah, and we have a structured, methodical approach to ensure that I can give as much as possible, to as many causes as I can.
Not everyone approaches me through formal channels, though.
The past few years, I’ve gotten used to it — the way someone will turn to me after shul, catch me while I’m putting my tallis away, and clear his throat.
“Reb Aryeh, do you have a moment…?” they ask, would-be casual, as if they haven’t been working up the courage to come over.
They give their pitch, and I let them say it until the end because they’re nervous, they’ve practiced, and their wife is probably waiting at home on shpilkes: Nu? What did the gvir say?
But really, I wish I could tell them it isn’t necessary. I know what I can give, how much I’ll give to which cause, and my standard donation if I can’t give something big is $100, maybe $180 if I have the change. Sometimes I’ll tell them to speak to the gabbai tzedakah, maybe we can arrange for something more.
I hate to disappoint people when I can’t pull out the big sums. I’ve learned, though, that disappointing people is part of the territory.
But family is a whole different ballgame.
family — my parents and siblings — are solidly middle class.
Enough — enough to live, to breathe, to buy what they need and some of what they want. But not more than that.
When I got married, my father-in-law was well-to-do, nothing crazy, but he owned a profitable business, and they were what you could call “comfortable.” Shaindy, an only child, definitely lived on a higher standard than I was used to, but hey, they had the money for it, so why not? When Shaindy and I moved to Israel, my parents and in-laws shared the burden of support for a year or two, and after that my father-in-law continuing supporting us alone for a while.
I joined the business when we moved back — and then Shaindy’s father had a stroke.
From one day to the next, and at a far younger age than I’d expected it, the business was mine.
I’m the kind of person who throws myself into what I’m doing. So although I wanted to continue running things the way my father-in-law had done it, at the same time, I started to invest in more: business coaching, a consultant, avenues of expansion and growth.
And business picked up. Significantly. Something like 500 percent growth in under two years.
Baruch Hashem, the success has only continued, and the business, which was always profitable, is now worth millions. And suddenly, I found myself in a vastly different financial bracket than my family.
It can be uncomfortable. For the most part, I try to play down what we have when we’re around my parents and siblings, but it’s tough. When we make simchahs, when we have my siblings and their families over for Shabbos… there’s not really any getting away from it.
My siblings reacted to our change of circumstances in different ways. Some make teasing — or downright stupid — comments: Looks like you’re doing well, the joys of a shver who sets you up, you’re lucky Shaindy didn’t have a brother…
I try not to take it personally. I know that it’s hard not to be jealous of someone who makes it to financial success. But I wish they would remember that I’m a person, too.
nd then Rikki started calling.
My youngest sister and I were never close — there’s a big age gap, and then she and Pinny were living in Israel for a few years after they got married. But now she’s moved back — renting a house not too far from ours, actually — and she seems to have a reason to call me every other day.
“Rikki, is everything okay?” I finally asked her, straight out, after she called yet again to chitchat about the weather and which of the dry cleaners nearby gives the best service at competitive prices.
“Yeah, sure,” she said, with a little airy laugh. “Just figured you know the neighborhood, so…”
“Um, Rikki, you grew up here.”
I can almost see her eyes widen in classic Rikki-ness. “Oh, but that’s totally different! Like, being an adult. I never went to the dry cleaners in my life before I got married!”
That’s because you’re a spoiled youngest, I wanted to say. It wasn’t a secret that my parents had doted on Rikki, their miracle baby. She’d definitely received a lot more than we had as kids: in time, in attention, in material possessions.
I didn’t begrudge it, but I did wonder whether her upbringing had kind of… disempowered her. Rikki was married with kids, but she was still kind of a kid herself.
“Anyway, just one thing,” Rikki continued, and I realized she was finally getting to the real point of the call. “So Pinny’s job at the store, it didn’t work out well, the timing wasn’t great, and we’ve decided that what he really needs to do is start up a business. There’s so much more potential, and he can make his own hours, you know?” She paused, giggled. “Like, why have a boss when you can be the boss? I mean, you totally know that.”
Honestly, I couldn’t think of a worse idea.
My brother-in-law Pinny was just… young. Not much younger than I had been when I joined my father-in-law’s business, okay, but he just seemed younger. Less mature. I’d never gotten the sense that he had business savvy, was financially responsible or thought out. Even the fact that he hadn’t held down his previous job for longer than a month was a warning sign to me.
But maybe I could help him out there.
“So he wants to speak to me about starting a business?” I asked Rikki.
“Ehhrrrm,” she drew out the word. “Like, not exactly. I think it’s more like, well, he was kind of hoping for a start-up loan.”
A loan. Oh, boy.
I decided to speak to Pinny directly, skip the go-between. I wanted to feel things out for myself. Was I mistaken in my impressions, or was he really a bit clueless about business and finances?
“So, Rikki tells me you’re looking into starting a business,” I said. “What kind of field are you thinking of…?”
“Oh, I’m still deciding,” he told me. “Maybe an Amazon business? Or real estate? Basically, the point is to make money, you know?”
He laughed loudly at his own joke, but honestly, I didn’t really find it funny.
“I’d be happy to offer you some business coaching, if you’d like,” I said. “You know, I’ve been in business for a while, it’s tough to have a start-up… so if that would be helpful for you…”
It was a very generous offer, but Pinny dismissed it. “Nah, I don’t want to take your time. I’m sure it’s worth a lot more money than I am.”
He laughed again. I gave a weak chuckle.
“Really, we just need a start-up loan, and I’m good to go,” Pinny assured me.
Despite my misgivings, I did end up giving them a loan. I felt like I couldn’t refuse them this chance, especially when I was known for giving interest-free loans to young people starting out in the business world.
Here, though, was different. I never gave a loan to someone with no plan, no reasonable time frame of when I could expect to have the loan repaid, no guarantors. Pinny had none of these.
And no, I never got the money back. Not after six months — which was the original stipulation of the loan — and not after a year.
At some point, Rikki told me that the investment went down the drain.
“I don’t know what to do, we just don’t have the money to pay back…” she said.
What could I say? It was tzedakah. It was family.
“Tell Pinny I’m moichel it,” I said. Truthfully, I was happy to get rid of the awkwardness that had been hanging between us with the debt unpaid.
“Really? Oh, wow, thank you so, so much, Aryeh!” Rikki said happily.
They were so relieved.
But then Rikki started calling again.
was pretty easy to get a picture of what was going on.
Pinny and Rikki had no savings — whatever they’d had, they lost in the failed venture. Rikki was earning a small income, but Pinny didn’t have a steady job. Here and there he did something seasonal — esrogim for Succos, matzah for Pesach — but whenever they seemed to get somewhat on their feet again, he went and blew their money on some other investment or idea that inevitably crashed.
Pinny, the eternal optimist, kept insisting that this time, this venture would pan out. Rikki went along with it. I think she wanted to believe it herself. But loaning them more and more start-up funds wasn’t going to help them, and — although it offered short-term relief — giving them money to cover expenses was also not ideal.
What they really needed was help.
“Rikki,” I once asked, trying to word it tactfully. “Have you ever heard of financial coaching? Sitting down with someone to get a sense of where your money is going, how you can manage it better, all that? It might really help, especially with Pinny looking to start a business.”
“Seriously, Aryeh? These things cost a fortune,” Rikki said. “I never understand how people can charge money for helping you with your finances. If you’re coming to them, you don’t have money.”
“Firstly, people go to financial coaching to work out how to manage their money better — not because they are broke,” I said. “It’s an investment, and it pays off pretty fast. And secondly, I’ll be happy to arrange it for you, I know a great guy, I’ll take care of the money part of it.”
That, I felt, was a real way to help them — not throwing more and more money down the drain for their latest schemes.
Rikki got back to me a week later. “It was so sweet of you to offer that thing, that coaching or whatever,” she said glibly. “I spoke to Pinny, but he doesn’t want. It’s not what we need. We just need capital, money to build on.”
I kept my mouth closed. They clearly weren’t receptive to what I had to say.
And still, they were asking for money.
Before Yom Tov. When their daughter needed speech therapy. When they were so behind with tuition payments that the school didn’t want to accept their next child.
At that point, I offered to speak to the school. The harried administrator was apologetic, but he explained that Pinny and Rikki had never once made a payment — how could he continue taking in their children?
I heard him.
“How much do they owe?” I asked.
He named a figure. “That’s already subsidized,” he assured me.
“Okay, give me the details, I’ll take care of it,” I said. Then, thinking ahead, I said, “From now on, I’ll pay the tuition bills, but I don’t want my sister to know. Could you tell her that they’ve been granted some sort of scholarship?”
The administrator was absolutely delighted with this new arrangement. And I was happy that I’d found a meaningful way to help my sister and her children, without pouring money into a bottomless pit.
And then my father asked to speak to me.
wasn’t happy when I gave him an envelope of $500. I think he’d been hoping that I would buy Pinny and Rikki a house or something.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t continue enabling the dysfunction. So they’d have a house, then what? There would still be groceries, bills, clothing, camp, and someday they’d be making weddings. They had to learn to take responsibility for their finances, their lives.
I didn’t want to speak badly about Pinny. And Rikki was Tatty’s princess; she could do no wrong in his eyes. But I knew them, I had experience with this. If I just gave them more cash, they’d go and blow it. It wouldn’t help the situation at its core.
Still, I wished there was a way for me to give them more money for food. It hurt to think of my sister struggling to pay for basic necessities. Eventually, I started discreetly paying up their account at the supermarket. Rikki didn’t even realize.
That told me, more than anything, just how financially unaware (irresponsible?) the two of them were.
“Sorry, just paying at the grocery,” Rikki told me one day, when she’d called me on some pretext or another. “Gimme a second — oh, I’ll put it on the account. Okay, I’m heading to the car now, Aryeh.” She lowered her voice. “Don’t ask, I have literally no idea how much money is on the account there, every time I go I hold my breath, but they haven’t asked me to pay up in a while. Must be hundreds of dollars on there.”
I knew how much it was. And it was more like thousands, not hundreds. Their shopping bills were huge, pretty much the same as ours, even though we have a bigger family. They clearly had no concept of budgeting.
But this is what I could give them, so I did.
nd then Pinny landed another, in his words, opportunity.
“This time it’s really, really worth it,” he said earnestly — he and Rikki had actually come over to my office in person to speak to me. “All I need is 50K, and I’m in on the ground up — it’s going to be huge.”
“What is it, exactly?” I asked, trying to keep the skepticism out of my voice.
“Luxury furniture. It’s a hot thing, apparently, and we just need to invest — my friend knows the details better than me, I’m not really sure how it works. But there’s a whole plan and everything, I just need to put in the money and the returns are supposed to be really, really high—”
I’d heard enough.
“I’m so sorry, I can’t lend you the money just now,” I said, trying to keep my tone gentle. “I’m happy to give you something toward it, though. It’s a gift. Hatzlachah.”
And, handing them a check for $5,000, I ushered them to the door.
hoped that would be the last I heard about the $50,000 loan, but of course, it wasn’t.
First it was Tatty, reaching out on Rikki’s behalf. It was awful to keep on refusing — I felt like he was upset with me, the one who struck it rich and left his family behind in the dust — but I couldn’t responsibly agree to lend them the money, nor did I want to talk down about Pinny to my father.
Even harder, though, was when my good friend Tzvi Greenstein called me, early one morning.
“Your brother-in-law. Pinny Schaffer. He’s got a good business sense?”
Whoa. Where did that come from? A sneaking suspicion bloomed in my mind. “Why do you ask?” I asked him, cautiously.
“Look, I’ll be honest, he asked me for a loan, he needs start-up capital to invest in something,” Tzvi said. “I have a thing for start-ups, I really try to help them if I can, but I need to know if he’s responsible, if I’m going to run into trouble lending him money. I need to know that I can expect the loan to be repaid, on time, not have to chase after him… I’ve had too many bad experiences.”
I knew he did. I also knew that he absolutely could not rely on Pinny to handle a loan responsibly.
I hated to do this, but I had to tell him the truth.
nd then it was Purim.
The lines, the pleas, the needs.
I had a checkbook, a pen, a bottle of seltzer, and I sat for four, five, maybe six hours, gave and gave and gave.
It’s not my money; it’s His, and I’m grateful to be His shaliach, I try to keep reminding myself with all the gratitude and accolades, it’s His, it’s His.
The parade continued, in and out and in and out of my dining room, yeshivos and organizations and people floundering under piles of debt. This one marrying off his seventh daughter. That one with a sick wife and struggling child. The next, whose orphaned grandchildren desperately needed to go to camp for a break from their difficult lives…
And then, suddenly, Pinny materialized, a funny hat perched on his head and desperation in his eyes.
“Aryeh,” he said, his voice a little wobbly. Has he been drinking? “Please, please, we really need that $50,000. It’s Purim, kol haposhet yad… can’t you help us?”
His desperation, his pushiness, his nerve suddenly made me angry. I’d just had enough.
I’d offered to coach him in starting up a business. I’d offered to pay for counseling. I gave them five thousand dollars as a gift. And that’s aside from paying off their tuition and groceries, which, granted, he didn’t know about, but didn’t he wonder where the money was coming from?
And instead of looking at himself, of taking real help, he’s begging and begging for a loan that’s almost certainly going to be wasted away.
I felt sick to my stomach.
Without meeting his eyes, I handed him a check for $180.
After that, I closed the door.
I just couldn’t face any more tonight.
If I could tell Tatty one thing, it would be: I wish I could give more, but that would simply be enabling a pattern of dysfunction.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 951)
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