“It’s too much to ask me to feel privileged that our lives are constantly being interrupted by people looking for handouts, Father!”
Zissy’s behavior toward the needy who came to their home began to become more aggressive. It was not that she was a bad person, but Hashem was testing her greatly in this area because that is what her neshamah needed for its tikkun.
She began to rant and rave when she felt there were too many people knocking on the door. She chased people out of the house on occasion and was extremely intolerant. Some people were so stung by Zissy’s words, they never returned. It did not take long for the information to get around town: All the poor and needy knew that they had to check if Fischel’s daughter was home before they dared venture toward the house.
Fischel noticed what was going on. How could he help his daughter change her attitude?
One day Fischel took Zissy into his study and sat her down for a long discussion.
“Look, Zissy, I know it isn’t easy putting up with everything that goes on in the house and all our chesed activities. But you must understand that we are truly privileged to be in this position.”
“I’ll try to keep quiet, but it’s too much to ask me to feel privileged that our lives are constantly being interrupted by people looking for handouts, Father!”
“Zissy, it’s not just about giving to others, it’s about the feelings that go along with it. If one gives tzedakah, but chas v’shalom is unkind to the person he’s giving it to, he will not only lose his mitzvah but will also be punished for his behavior. When you berate people who come here for my help, it’s going directly against what Chazal tell us, that one should preferably throw themselves into a fire than embarrass someone else in public! The Midrash tells us that if someone lectures a beggar, yelling at them to go out into the world and get a “real” job, then Hashem will change that person’s fate, chas v’shalom, and cause the person’s entire fortune to change, so that the person’s own son will be begging for money door to door!”
“Okay, okay!” Zissy’s face was flushed red, her hands clenched together tightly. “I-I don’t want our fortunes to change, that’s for sure…”
“My dear daughter…” Fischel softened his tone. “My father instructed me on his deathbed to make sure I and all my offspring would follow in his ways, to look always to help other Jews, no matter the circumstances and no matter how difficult. I know it’s not easy to see so much money from our accounts being given away, and your nice clothes — though you don’t wear them anymore — being given to almanos who need to make a living. But I beg of you, at least keep silent, even if you do not want to personally partake of the chesed occurring under this roof.”
“But for some people, they need a little of reproof… Yankel, Shmelke, Zushe… They have no self-respect! It’s like they enjoy being needy and mooching off others. It makes me absolutely sick inside to see people leeching—”
“Is this the way Hashem wants us to think of the poor, Zissy? To cast away our respect for them, and care not for their dignity and feelings? Do you remember the story I always told you at night before you went to sleep, when you were a little girl?”
“Of course… But, Father—”
“Remember how Mar Ukva and his wife used to be so careful when they left money for a poor person by his door, traveling in total secrecy so the beneficiary would never see them and feel ashamed for taking anything from them. Then, the poor person had an idea. He was burning with curiosity; who were the mysterious people who always helped him out and left money at his doorway? They ran away each time before he could catch them, but perhaps if he waited patiently by the door, he could open the door when they came by and catch them in the act and finally know who his benefactors were!
“And that’s exactly what he did, lying in wait, with bated breath… Sure enough, Mar Ukva and his wife came to the doorway and put the money down, and immediately the pauper threw the door open to see who it was! Mar Ukva and his wife ran through the streets, but the pauper pursued them relentlessly. They turned and found an oven, still hot, to hide in, and they jumped inside!
“Imagine how it was… Mar Ukva’s wife was not hurt in the slightest, but Mar Ukva himself found his feet burning against the oven floor. He was able to escape the pain by standing on his wife’s feet, but he was still bothered. Why was he not also fit to merit total protection from the heat, as his wife was? His wife explained that while Mar Ukva provided the needy with money, she was always at home and was the main one available to help the poor with their needs when they came by.”
Fishel’s eyes were wide as he looked at Zissy.
“Imagine, Zissy! They jumped into the hot oven because that was better than embarrassing someone in public! Please, please… I beg of you, for everyone’s sake, don’t hurt the feelings of anyone who comes to us for help. When you change your attitude, you’ll see these people in a different light. The world is a wheel, and everyone’s fortunes can turn at any moment. In one moment, the wealthiest man can become bitterly poor, and the poor man incredibly rich. We don’t want Hashem to chas v’shalom have to remind us of this, do we?”
“No.” Zissy was silent. But in her heart, she felt her father was exaggerating. She led a privileged life and didn’t actually fear that one day everything could turn upside down.
“Tell me you’ll try harder, Zissy.”
“I will, Father.”
And of course, just at that moment, there was a knock on the door.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 936)
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