Learning from Purim
A few a weeks ago was the Jewish holiday of Purim. One of the special mitvot (commands) of this holiday is to remember the poor. And, especially, to help them face to face.
I found an interesting article, which started with this midrash (a story told to make a point) from the Talmud. The message is worth reflecting upon.
Mar Ukbar was a righteous man, who every Shabat on the way home from synagogue, would slip some coins under the door of his poor neighbors. One day, his neighbor decided to find out, who his benefactor was. However, when he opened the door, Mar Ukbar with his wife fled, preferring anonymity. They hid in a large stone oven,
which had been recently cleaned. Mar Ukbar's feet started to burn, so his wife told him to put them on hers. Mar Ukbar was tiffed that his feet were burning, and not his wife's. She obviously was being protected by God's hand.
"What's with this?", he asked her abruptly.
"When I am at home," she replied, "I give my gifts to the poor, face to face. You, on the other hand, have chosen to remain hidden." BT Ketubot 67b
The unflattering (from Mar Ukbar's perspective) moral of the story is that God prefers personal, face-to-face charity.
The midrash provides an interesting observation. At the heart of the Torah is God's concern for relationships: between people and between people and God. Furthermore, real relationships are foremost personal, not abstract.
With face-to-face giving, we build solidarity and compassion with each other. The joys and suffering of our brothers and sisters become our own. We learn to identify with the poor, as individual people. In the process, God transforms our hearts through the experience. Those who give, also receive.
The Torah does not preclude, in spite of this story, giving from a distance (there are many commands to do so), but it does encourage us to also consider ways to make it personal.
See the article by Gabriel Brown for a list of practical suggestions.