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Purim Primer

If you’re in shul, listen. If you’re home, listen. If you’re collecting, listen even more intently


Purim opinion pieces are usually about drinking, for or against, or maybe about bochurim going collecting, how young is too young, and should the yeshivos be sponsoring limos for them? If you’re a seasoned mechanech, maybe you’ve weighed in about kids and cap guns too.

We know the collecting debate. Real gvirim go to Florida for Purim, which has resulted in wannabe gvirim catching on and going to Florida for Purim, and also in resourceful yeshivah administrators sending groups to Florida for Purim, which means that real gvirim have stopped going to Florida for Purim.

I’ve been collecting for many years, and in this column, I’m going to share some experience and insight with you.

Where To Go (and where not)

Avoid A-list gvirim. They are overwhelmed, and those who are open and not worried about carpets, floors, and the neighbors generally have a set amount they give. You’ll wait on line and sing the grammen you’ve been writing since the day after the yeshivah’s Chanukah mesibah, and the cleverness and wit will be lost on the gvir because of the guy grabbing his other shoulder, leaning on him like he’s a shtender.

Go for the younger, just-made-it types: Range Rover in the driveway, extension on the extension. Jews are good and holy and there is no such thing as a Yid who’s been blessed who isn’t bursting to share it. If he isn’t public yet, he’s all yours: He’ll laugh at the grammen, marvel at the vort about Basar Tovor Maneh and Haman’s daughter and fargin you your big expertise on the major difference between Yatir Creek and Yatir Petit Verdot.

As you go collecting, though, remember that there’s a way that you too can be a giver, even though you’re the one with an address list on the dashboard and wine-drenched vouchers from other people folded poorly in your back pocket.

You might go to a donor and end up sitting there all alone — for whatever reason, no one has come to collect. It happens.

I’ve seen it, the video camera rolling on a tripod, the table set up with huge platters of mini-eggrolls and knishes, Shmueli pounding from the speakers in anticipation of the crowds, and for whatever reason, it’s just you.

The kids are watching eagerly, but ain’t no one coming to Tatty.

It feels like you’re on stage in a camp play, but don’t move. Because now you’re the gvir, and he’s the pauper, and even if he doesn’t really have money or can’t give money, nothing is black and white, and this world is make-believe, and you just became the man. Stay there all night if you have to.

Skip the List

Next piece of unsolicited advice: If you want to do it right, go with no list, and hit up every single house with a mezuzah. You’ll be surprised again and again: maybe by the amount and maybe by the passion and heart.

A friend of mine was recently running an emergency tzedakah campaign in Lakewood. They made their initial collections working with an estimated goal based on the family’s specific need. A few days in, new information emerged, and it turned out that the family needed a smaller amount than originally anticipated. The askanim met with Rav Dovid Feinstein, who ruled that they had to publicize this information to those who’d already given. Even though funds were still needed to meet the adjusted goal, those who’d already given deserved to know of the update and make the judgment call whether to take back their donations.

My friend, who dealt with the ensuing communications with the donors, shared two messages with me. I’m sure the Berditchever Rebbe would have treasured each one.

The first message was from someone who’d donated $180. In his message, the donor said that he wanted back part of the original donation. One hundred dollars of it, he explained, he’d borrowed from a Gemach while the other eighty dollars had been his own. He wanted just the part he’d borrowed back, so that he could repay the loan. His own donation could remain.

The next message was from someone who’d originally donated $20. He wanted to take back ten and give ten.

This Purim, go to those types of people. They are “baalei” tzedakah, masters of the craft.

Listen, then Give

And once I’m being presumptuous already (V’nahafoch hu, the season, etc.), here’s a tip for the givers, those of you who will be sitting in silk smoking jackets, good pen in hand, check-books piled up like a deck of cards, showing your children how it’s done so that one day, they too will be baalei tzedakah.

First of all, a very bureaucratic he’arah: I get why giving vouchers and not having to worry about the receipt is convenient, but giving out vouchers that will never get cashed — never! — isn’t a mitzvah of tzedakah. It’s an aveirah of making people feel guilty about those few slips of paper that may or may not be worth $36 each but they’ll never know, because the office that redeems those off-brand vouchers doesn’t answer the phone, and the guy who runs it only takes people on alternating Tuesdays in a shul ezras nashim. If you’re going to voucher, make sure it’s user-friendly as cash or checks. The people running  organizations are busy helping others; don’t give them more errands they will not do.

Second of all — listen. Give one more minute per customer and listen. It’s noisy and they’re slobbering on you and someone looks like they’re going to break the glass on your breakfront, but listen. Maybe they’re telling you that they know your nephew from camp, and that once, you said shalom aleichem to them at Kiddush Levanah so you should give extra, but listen anyway!

I was recently davening Shacharis in a Lakewood shul, doing my own thing. A meshulach came by, and I gave him a dollar or two and continued on. After davening, the meshulach approached me again as I was making a coffee.

I gently pointed out that I’d already given him earlier, and he paused, as if deliberating whether he should say what was on his mind.

I was in a bit of a rush, running late for a meeting, and I raised my eyebrows. Nu.

This slim Yerushalmi father and husband, with large earnest eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses and neat curly peyos, looked pained.

“Hust mir gegebben, you gave me,” he said, “ubber hust mir nisht oisgehert, but you didn’t hear me out.

I hadn’t listened to his story, hadn’t heard about the wife’s breakdown, the child’s surgery, the lost job, the chovos after being scammed by the contractor. It had been about me, but not about him.

In Lakewood, tzedakah capital of America, near the door of the Chestnut Shul, he pierced me with his words.

You have to hear every single word in the Megillah. The mitzvah is to listen, to train yourself to catch every syllable.

Purim is a day of hearing. Back in Shushan we didn’t see overt miracles. There were no revelations. But to those who were attuned, the precision of the Divine plan and depth of His love became clear.

On Purim we learn to listen again.

If you’re in shul, listen. If you’re at home receiving groups, listen. If you’re collecting, listen even more intently.

And if you’re in Florida, on the couch with your shoes off and relaxing, listen close: Somewhere, not far below you, there is a group of bochurim looking for parking in their rented Suburban. They know exactly which condo is yours, and they’re coming for you.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 801)


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