Rabbi Binyomin Halpern: Still the season of giving

by Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern

(Calgary) – Covid-19 continues to impact us in many ways. One of these is the financial strain that it has had on our province and indeed the world. This has resulted in a focus on cost saving measures as individuals, communities and governments brace themselves for immediate and long term difficulty.  It has also given rise to a new term- ‘pandemic penny pinchers,’ as across the globe people are challenging each other how to make the most of their leftovers or extend the life of their clothing.

While saving money is always a good idea, especially during tough economic times, this trend has highlighted for me something much more solemn and serious.

The Talmud[1] makes the following observation:

דקדוקי עניות

The exactions of poverty,

מעבירין את האדם על דעתו ועל דעת קונו

cause a person to go against his own view, and that of his Creator.

In other words, the confining need to save money when there is not enough to go around, can cause us to do things that are frowned upon, both by Heaven and by our inner selves.

Poverty creates a new mindset; one that is all-encompassing. It presents itself in our everyday questions.  Should I treat myself or my family to a special outing?  Should I support a local establishment, institution, or tzedaka (charity)? Do I have time today to volunteer? These are now viewed through the unfortunate lens of dikdukei aniyut, the exactions of poverty. We simply don’t have the time or the resources, or physical ability to contribute as we once did so freely. We tighten our belts for we must, but inevitably, the danger is that the purse strings of our hearts become tighter along the way.

Chanuka is upon us, a time when traditionally we are extra generous.  There is a time-honoured Chanuka tradition of showing our appreciation to those who we benefit from day in and day out, and to cheer on the schoolchildren and schoolteachers, who continue with great dedication to teach and learn the very Torah that the Maccabees fought and sacrificed for. It is a time when we are used to opening up our homes and Jewish institutions with Chanukah parties to share with each other Hashem’s gifts to us.

What will Chanuka look like this year?

My point is not to bemoan yet again what we are missing. Rather, it is that we should not allow ourselves to get used to this.

A long time ago there was scholar named Rabi Elazar. It so happened that one day Rabi Elazar could not attend the yeshiva. It happens to the best of us, and that could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. It really bothered Rabi Elazar that he had missed out.  So much so that later, when he met his friend Rabi Asi, he said to him “You know, I wasn’t able to attend today’s learning, but you were there. So please tell me, what did I miss??”[2]

This is the challenge for us all. True we are not living times where it is easy or even realistic to give and share the way we did. Still, we must not forget the truth and the feeling that giving more is still the ideal.

I hope and pray that the time comes very soon that we will have again the resources, financial and otherwise, that will allow us to be generous in the ways that we want to be, and sorely miss.

Malka and I would like to wish the entire community a lichtige Chanuka, a holiday that will illuminate and inspire us through the winter.

P.S. It is also important to be generous with ourselves! So in the meantime, remember to smile and laugh, bringing good cheer to yourself and those around you. (6 feet away!)  

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern serves as Rabbi at the House of Jacob Mikvah Israel in Calgary.

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