GOOD MORNING!  Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding in Jerusalem. It is the custom in Jerusalem for poor people to collect tzedakah (charity) at weddings. Personally, I find this uplifting for two reason: (1) there are many opportunities to give tzedakah, and (2) one can feel like a Rothschild by giving a Shekel (worth about a quarter). Most people give half a Shekel or less.

I also had the pleasure of sitting next to an old friend who had moved to Jerusalem. While he is a genuine philanthropist and gives generously to important causes, his attitude to the continuous flow of requests was far different than mine. Every time someone approached, he pulled inward, put up a shield and did his best to be invisible. I'd say he felt that he was under attack, under a barrage of outstretched hands.

Being the perpetual do-gooder that I am, I decided to help my friend get more joy out of life by appreciating the opportunity before him. "You know," says I, "this is fantastic! In Miami I just don't feel good unless I give $18. Here I can make people happy with the equivalent of a quarter!"

"Yes," says my friend, "but you don't know if they are for real! I have it on good authority that many of them are frauds!"

Undaunted, I responded, "Maybe so, but you rarely know for sure. However, the Almighty deals with us measure for measure. Perhaps if we give when someone else doesn't really need, the Almighty will give us though we don't need. While one must generally verify that the tzedakah recipient is legitimate to fulfill the commandment of giving a tithe of one's income, one can look upon the few coins as a kindness to another human being even if he doesn't qualify as tithe-recipients. And the small amount one gives does not have to come from one's tithe accounting. (Personally, each year I budget several hundred dollars in my 'rip off' account --for the plumbers, electricians, car repairmen, storekeepers and others who take unfair advantage of me. I figure the financial cost is far worth the peace of mind and mental health of not getting physically and emotionally distressed over the losses.)"

I then continued, "When I first came to yeshiva (a Torah academy of higher learning) at the age of 22, one of the first questions I asked my Rebbie (teacher) was 'If I have $100 to give, should I give it to one individual where I can make an impact or $1 to 100 people?' My rebbie wisely replied, 'Give $1 to each of 100 people. Then when the 101st person asks you for help, you will have compassion for him and feel the pain of not being able to help another human being. If you give $100 to one person, then every time each of the next 99 people will ask for your help, you will feel bombarded. You will feel that you are being unfairly treated. You will ask yourself 'Why can't they realize what a generous and righteous man I am? Don't they know that I really helped one person?' You will harden yourself and always be on the defensive.' It's better to have the joy of giving, of saying a kind word to another human being and becoming a more compassionate person!"

A few moments later another poor person made his way around our table with his hand outstretched. When he came to my friend, my friend looked up, smiled and asked if the person could give him change for 10 shekels so that he could give to others as well. The Sages tell us that one can recognize a Jew through three character traits. A Jew is merciful, morally sensitive and does kindness. And that well describes my friend!


Last week I wrote that Tu B'Shvat is celebrated in Israel by planting trees. That is only done 6 out of 7 years. This year is the seventh year, the Shmitah, when the Torah prohibits planting or working the land. Hence, no trees are planted this year!

Torah Portion of the Week

The Jewish people leave Egypt. Pharaoh regrets letting them go, pursues them leading his chosen chariot corps and a huge army. The Jews rebel and cry out to Moses, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?" The Yam Soof, the Sea of Reeds (usually mistranslated as the Red Sea) splits, the Jews cross over, the Egyptians pursue and the sea returns and drowns the Egyptians. Moses and the men and Miriam and the women -- each separately -- sing praises of thanks to the Almighty.

They arrive at Marah and rebel over the bitter water. Moses throws a certain tree in the water to make it drinkable. The Almighty then tells the Israelites, "If you obey God your Lord and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am God who heals you." (This is why the Hagaddah strives to prove there were more than 10 plagues in Egypt -- the greater the number of afflictions, the greater number from which we are protected.)

Later the Israelites rebel again over lack of food; God provides quail and manna (a double portion was given on the sixth day to last through Shabbat; we have two challahs for each meal on Shabbat to commemorate the double portion of manna). Moses instructs them concerning the laws of Shabbat. At Rephidim, they rebel again over water. God tells Moses to strike a stone which then gave forth water. Finally, the portion concludes with the war against Amalek and the command to "obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens."


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

During our 40 years sojourn in the desert, we were attacked by the nation of Amalek. While the battle took place, Moshe stood on the top of a hill and raised his hands towards the heavens. This reminded the Jewish people to subject their hearts to the Almighty so that they would succeed and be victorious over Amalek. The Torah states, "And the hands of Moshe were heavy and they took a rock and paced it under him and he sat on it" (Exodus 17:12). Why did Moshe sit on a rock and not on pillows?

Rashi, the great commentator, informs us that Moshe sat on a rock and not on pillows because he did not want to sit in comfort while Jews were in danger and suffering. He wanted to feel their suffering and to share it. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz teaches that this is a lesson for us on how to feel another person's suffering. Don't just imagine the pain of another, but do something physically to actually feel his pain.

Empathy is such an important attribute that we should make every effort to feel for another person. By being aware of how a little discomfort bothers us, we can have greater empathy for others -- especially those coming to our door or meeting us in the street asking for tzedakah!


Jerusalem  4:43
Guatemala 5:54  Hong Kong 5:58  Honolulu 6:08
J'Burg 6:37  London 4:46  Los Angeles 5:13
Melbourne 8:08  Miami 5:52  Moscow 5:02
New York 5:05  Singapore 7:02


If you wear blinders,
even shedding light on the subject
won't help!

Dedicated by...

With Special Thanks to
Michael Adler
for dedicating this edition