Who Should We Be Helping On Purim?
As Purim approaches, there are many requests for tzedakah. Some of these are requests for helping the poor. Others are requests for helping sustain yeshivos/kollels. I myself, in my youth, spent many Purims collecting for various yeshivos. Eventually, I realized that this is just not the mitzvah of the day; the mitzvah is matanot l'evyonim, helping the poor. (Last year I wrote about the amazing local yeshiva Lev HaTorah, which sends its students collecting - for the poor of the community!)
But supporting the yeshiva/kollel system is not only problematic in being a distortion of the mitzvah of the day, and in diverting charitable funds away from the poor. It can also be the very cause of poverty. Here is a mailing that I received from a local outstanding charity, Lemaan Achai, which has two parts. The first describes a general problem in the community (which isn't spelled out explicitly, but you can read between the lines), and the second part discusses how Lemaan Achai's philosophy of smart chesed is implemented for Purim:
Let's End the Madness
It began as a normal evening. After eating dinner and spending a few minutes with my family I prepared to leave for Maariv, the evening service. Then the phone rang.
On the other end of the line was a member of our community for whom I have great respect. He is a terrific educator and wonderful father. He was not calling with a personal issue nor anything pertaining to his students. He reached out to me because of the two children standing at his front door.
On this cold, rainy winter night, he had answered the doorbell and discovered a 12 year old girl and her 5 year old brother. They were shivering and the 5 year old was on the verge of crying.
Were they lost? Had something happened to cause them to knock on a random door?
They were standing with their hands out, asking for money.
What could propel a parent to send their children out into the night, on a bus, alone, to collect from strangers? Was there illness in the house? Did some tragedy, G-d forbid, create a financial crisis?
As the incredulous homeowner discovered, there was no issue for this family other than poverty by choice. They had taken a path in life that limited their ability to make a living. Their children, they decided, could better arouse the mercy of kind-hearted Jews, and by going door to door could provide the income their parents didn't.
Prior to calling me my friend phoned both the police and social services. He and a neighbor waited with the children until the authorities would arrive. He then reached out to me knowing that at Lema'an Achai we offer the hand up as opposed to the hand out.
Thank G-d, the children were brought safely home. A social worker met with the parents to explain that such behavior is endangerment and must end.
For me this story reinforces the mission of Lema'an Achai and Smart Chesed. Contributing to this lifestyle when there is no illness or extenuating circumstance, only perpetuates the cycle of poverty. The next generation learns firsthand that it pays to put a hand out rather than help themselves through a hand up.
Help us strengthen the message of Smart Chesed. The time has come to end the madness.
What is SMART Matanot L'evyonim?
Purim is the most joyous day in the Jewish calendar. At Lema'an Achai it is especially important as we endeavor to ensure that everyone, regardless of their station in life, can also celebrate.
The mitzvah to give Matanot L'evyonim (gifts to the poor) is a central mitzva of Purim day. Matanot L'evyonim allows the less fortunate the opportunity to enjoy like everyone else around them.
The families of Lema'an Achai work hard year round in their goal to attain self sufficiency. Lema'an Achai's Matanot L'evyonim distribution, discreetly gives to hundreds of needy families on Purim day, thus ensuring that they too, can celebrate with honor and dignity.
You can enhance that joy of receiving on Purim by allocating half to be given "Bo Bayom" (on Purim day) and half after Purim. We call that Smart Matanot L'evyonim. It is Halachically approved and spreads the happiness on Purim and beyond.
Give today knowing that your generosity helps for a joyous today and a brighter tomorrow! http://www.lemaanachai.org/en/project/smart-matanot/
I know the Rabbanim who oversee Lemaan Achai, the people who work there (my wife used to be one of their social workers), and the members of the board, and I can personally attest to their amazing professionalism, wisdom and dedication!