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Back to Basics
Rochel or Rotel? – Third and Final Installment
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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My parents were childless for the first ten years of their married life. Naturally, their joy was boundless when they were blessed with the birth of my older sister thirteen months before I was born. Their family members, friends and neighbors shared in their boundless celebration (See Rashi's commentary to Bereshis 21:6)

My mother related to me how touched she was by the many people who informed her that they had said tehilim for her, dedicated mitzvah observance on her behalf, or had asked gedolim to daven that my father a'h and she, y'lct, merit the birth of a child. While my parents were appreciative beyond words of all maasim tovim and tefilos dedicated on their behalf, and we firmly believe that every sincere tefilah is accepted by Hashem, it would quite obviously be impossible to declare with any certainty that any particular tefilah, segulah, or bracha were to be 'credited' for my sister's birth.

I mention this in the context of the past two columns appearing in this space noting that increasingly more and more charity ads are hawking 'yeshuos' (miraculous salvations) to prompt people to give tzedakah - as opposed to (or in addition to) making a thoughtful case for why this particular charity is worthy of your support.

There are those in our diverse kehilos who attach great significance to segulos and/or yeshuos. Others take the "Tomim t'heyeh im Hashem Elokecha," (Devorim 18:13, see Rashi) approach and do not attach much meaning to segulos/yeshuos. Further along the continuum, there are those who are put off by the notion of segulos/yeshuos and feel that they are presented as 'shortcuts' leading to instant acceptance of tefilos.

These are substantive and diverse hashkafic philosophies, and are well beyond the scope of this column.

With that in mind, we ought to respect each other's approaches to this matter of segulos and yeshuos. However, in the public arena, I strongly feel that charity ads should be making the case for why particular tzedakos are worthy of the reader's donation - without engaging in 'marketing' segulos or yeshuos.

Desperate Measures

Then there is the issue of the propriety of charity ads appealing to the vulnerability of people who are, sadly, suffering through a challenging time in their lives.

I feel that it is highly inappropriate for people who are desperate for children, shidduchim, or have relatives who are seriously ill to be 'pitched' for charity giving in a manner that conveys the message that they are almost guaranteed a 'yeshuah' if they will contribute to a particular charity.

A few months ago, I received an email from an individual who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. This man and his wife were childless for a number of years in the 1980's. They traveled to Eretz Yisroel during this challenging period in their lives, and went to Bnei Brak to request a bracha from Maran HaRav Eliezer Shach z'tl. Rav Shach told them that when they return home, they should visit a local yeshiva and arrange to pay for the full tuition of a needy child in their community. Rav Shach informed them that they should express in their tefilos that just as they paid for the tuition of one of Hashem's children, they ask to be merited the zechus of paying for the tuition of their own children. They did just that and they were blessed with a child within a short period of time.

Now, imagine what your reaction would be if a Yeshiva in Baltimore would relate that story in a series of full-page ads with screaming headlines reading: "Segulah For Children!!! Pay for the tuition of a child in our yeshiva!!!"

There are so many wonderful and diverse charities in our community, each of them worthy of communal support; Tomchei Shabbos, Bikur Cholim, etc. It is the responsibility of those in the leadership of the charities to make the case - in ads, flyers, and personal solicitations - as to why donors should contribute to them. It is certainly appropriate to present footnoted, universally accepted mamorei chazal (words of our sages) - such as a pasuk from Tanach, a quote from a gemorah, or the commentary of Rashi - supporting the themes of the charity in a way that presents a logical thread to the reader.

Four for Four

Take the example of one of the many tzedokos that solicit funds to assist needy Jews with Yom Tov expenditures. There are so many beautiful mamorei chazal that could be the theme of ads supporting this charity - without resorting to hawking 'yeshuos'.

Here is just one:

When describing the Yom Tov festivities, The Torah (Devorim 16:11) states, "You should rejoice before Hashem; you, your son, your daughter, your slave and your maidservant … the Levi, the convert, the widow and the orphan."

There is a touching and poignant Rashi that so beautifully conveys the theme of assisting those in need with their holiday expenses. Commenting on the pasuk noted above, Rashi points out that the Torah includes eight categories of people who ought to be included in the happiness of our holidays. Four are members of one's household - the children and the members of one's staff. The other four listed in the Torah are those who may not have the resources or the safety net of familial support to defray the considerable expenses associated with Yom Tov - the Levi, the convert, the widow and the orphan.

Rashi (Devorim 16:11), quotes two Midrashim and states that Hashem says, "Your four (the members of your household) correspond to My four (those who may be in need). If you gladden the hearts of My four, I will gladden the hearts of your four."

Here you have a clear, unequivocal assurance from Hashem to materially benefit those who support needy Yidden before Yom Tov - from Rashi, no less, the "Father of our Commentators." There is also a logical and emotional connection between the mitzvah and its reward.

How's that for a marketing theme?

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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Rochel or Rotel?? – Responding to the Response
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