Charity, are You Giving to Give or to Help?


   
    May, 1998          
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Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernibol

By Lenny Braun

  Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernibol was a famous Chassidic Rabbi who lived about two hundred and fifty years ago. He was renowned for his piety, scholarship and for his kindness in helping out those less fortunate Jews that abounded in those days. Jews from all walks of life, sought him out. The wealthy asked him business and investment advice. The poor and sick asked for charity. All people were received with a kind voice, a smile and a sincere and warm heart. Indeed, his doorstep never gathered dust due to the non stop crowds who frequented his house.

  No one was ever turned away or not accepted by Rabbi Menachem Nachum. Indeed, his family, his friends, and his students were not fazed by the sight of groups of people gathered about his door, waiting to gain entry. Each person was gladdened by the sight of the next person to leave Rabbi Menachem Nachum's private study, for no one ever left with out a smile on his face. Rabbi Menachem Nachum would not let some one just leave, but he troubled himself to insure that his visitor not only receive the help he was seeking, but also was set into a happy and radiant frame of mind. Seeing that his visitor was happy and relaxed, Rabbi Menachem Nachum would give him a warm handshake, a blessing and escort the happy visitor to door.

  One day, Rabbi Menachem Nachum, contrary to his warm and understanding nature, refused to accept any visitors. His family was perplexed, but abided by his wishes and announced to the disappointed crowd, that Rabbi Menachem Nachum would see no one today. The next day, seeing that Rabbi Menachem Nachum was in good spirits and good health, the needy assembled at his door. Again the message came out that like yesterday, no one would be admitted. No charity would be given out.

  His friends, family and students did not understand the reason. Why had he become so inhospitable? Why had he changed? Instead of helping people, he locked himself into his study and bid no one to enter.

  A week past, and then another week. Finally Rabbi Menachem Nachum announced that he would receive visitors. The crowds began streaming to his door as before. And they received the same encouragement and warm heart, together with advice and charity as before.

  His students were puzzled. Why had Rabbi Menachem Nachum stopped his customary reception of needy people for the two week period? What was behind it all?

  One of the students decided that he would approach the master and ask him to explain his seemingly strange behavior.

  Rabbi Menachem Nachum answered him. "I have always had a soft heart, and when some one came to visit me, and they had troubles, it bothered me dearly. The more a person would tell me his problems, the worse I felt. I had to make him happy, because that alleviated my personal pain of hearing of his pain. Each person who came to me, I did my best to make him happy, because if I didn't make him happy, then I, too, would be unhappy.

 "Suddenly, I realized that I was not helping him because it is a Commandment from G-d, but because I was in pain to hear about another Jew and his problems. Can you imagine how I felt? Terrible! I knew that I had to work on myself to give and to help because it is a commandment and not because I wanted to feel good."

  "But what's the difference?" his students asked. "You resumed helping out the needy just like before!"

  "Yes, it's true. From the side of the needy, it is the same. The difference is from me. What if some one were to come and ask for help and I did not feel his pain? Would I have been so charitable as if I felt his pain? There fore I had to work on myself to give generously with out feeling the needy persons pain, just like if I felt their pain!"

  And may we all merit to give to our less fortunate brethren with a warm smile and in a generous manner even though we do not feel their pain.

~~~~~~~

from theMay, 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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