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

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11/10/06
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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Related Articles:
Rochel or Rotel?? – Responding to the Response
Thirteen Year-olds or Thirteen Gallons?


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1. great idea     5/2/07 - 5:09 PM
wife

You ask what [our] 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!!!"

My husband's answer: great idea!

You think not. Why?


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2. And what happens when the "segulah" doesn't work     5/2/07 - 8:23 PM
Orthonomics - orthonomics@gmail.com

To the commentor above:

What happens when the donors donates in hopes of being blessed with a child and is not so blessed?

Let's sell our organizations on their merits and not on segulot, yeshuot, etc.

Giving to education is has plenty of merit. Jewish education pays dividends far into the future. It is a sound investment in the Jewish community. It need not be marketed dishonestly.


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3. censor Chazal?     5/3/07 - 5:56 PM
M

1) The pasuk says, "tzedaka tzadil mi'maves" - charity saves from death. What if a person gives tzedaka for that reason and dies? Should the pasuk not be taught?

2) The Rambam says there's a mitzva to pray when you have needs. What do you tell people when they pray and their prayers aren't answered? Is that a reason not to promote prayer? Of course not.

There's a popular answer - Hashem answered. He said no.

Same for segulos.

So many people are interested in doing segulos even though I haven't heard of their having a great track record. It doesn't stop them.

3) Was R' Shach "marketing" (?!) dishonestly when he told the couple to pay for a child's tuition?

4) Chazal say, "tithe so you will be rich". The pasuk says, "test me in this" - in tzedaka. I know people who have given tzedaka and have not received it back. People who gave more than maaser and didn't become rich. Therefore? Should these statements be censored?


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4. Segulos vs. Tefila     7/26/07 - 2:45 PM
Shimon Zev - New York

A previous comment expressed the idea that just like by Tefila the answer can be "no" the same would apply to segulos, and therefore, no harm is done if the segula does not come to pass.

I think there is a critical difference between the two which may impact the analogy (or it might not). When one davens, one is communicating with G-d independent of the persons request. One is saying in effect, "G-d, I wish to have a relationship with You. If You fulfill my request, great. Otherwise, I still desire the relationship."

A segula, by contrast, seems to be focused on a single issue. I want my request fulfilled. It doesn't focus on the connection between G-d and myself.

As a result: when one davens and Hashem answers "no" his reaction is, "OK, I still accomplished something with my prayer." By a segula, if Hashem answers "no" there may, perhaps be a big letdown which can be spiritually damaging.

I claim no expertise in segulos nor knowledge of how they work. I present my comments respectfully and fully cognizant that I may be way off base.


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5. segulos     7/27/07 - 9:54 AM
Anonymous

depends on the segula

if it's a segula to recite all of Tehillim, then the segula consists of a prayer

if it's a segula to daven at the Kosel for 40 days in a row, that is also prayer

if it's a segula to pay for the tuition of a child, then a chesed is done regardless

your point would apply to segulos that are not directly mitzvos, something like eating sugar cubes from a pidyon ha'ben

point to remember - many segulos have holy origins or have been suggested by holy people

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