Step # 4
פתח תפתח את ידך לאחיך לעניך ולאבינך בארצך
“Open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to the needy in your land.” (Devarim 15:11)
The noted psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz tells this story:
There was a young, shy girl of about 8 or 9 years of age who lived in the working-class neighborhood of her town. One day she was encouraged by her mother to spend time with an elderly, blind woman who lived nearby. The blind woman was upbeat about her condition and told her young friend that in two years she would be eligible for assistance and could undergo an operation that would return her sight.
The prospect of such a long wait troubled the young girl greatly, and the next day at school, overcoming her natural shyness, she told her friends and classmates about the lady and began soliciting funds. Surprisingly, her appeal was sufficiently moving and many of her schoolmates contributed to her cause.
Excitedly, she put the money in an envelope and proceeded directly to her neighborhood ophthalmologist. She told him about the woman and asked him to perform the operation. Proudly she handed him the envelope, which he carefully opened. Inside he found 83 crumpled dollars. Touched by the girl’s kindness and determination, he agreed to do the surgery. The operation was successful, and the woman’s sight was restored.
A short time later the young girl’s mother learned of the incident. Although she was very proud of her daughter, she was nonetheless distraught over what she thought was an imposition upon the surgeon. She went to see the doctor and asked him to let her know how much the surgery cost so that she could repay him. The doctor told her that it wouldn’t be necessary, and in fact, he told the mother that her daughter had actually done him a favor. He took out the envelope that had contained the crumpled bills and told her that he carries it with him all the time. He often takes it out of his pocket to look at, and to be reminded about how good people can be.
The Transformative Power of This Story:
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
A child in an elementary school classroom notices that a classmate has forgotten her snack at home. Making sure that her teacher is observing her behavior, she shares her own snack with the classmate. She anticipates with great pleasure the verbal reward she is about to receive. She is extrinsically (coming from the outside) motivated to repeat her behavior.
In this extraordinary act of tzedaka and chesed, the 8-year-old girl in this story developed a deep sense of sympathy with the woman. She feels personally (intrinsically) rewarded because she knows it’s the right thing to do. When a child learns to act according to her conscience, it’s a major transformative event in her life.
There is no tzedaka or chesed activity that is as meaningful as the ones we do with our own hands and even more so when we encourage others to join us.
A Story From Our Past
One of the most extraordinary men in our history was the noted British philanthropist and ba’al chesed, Moses Montefiore. A wealthy banker (and sheriff of London!), Sir Montefiore, as he became known upon being knighted by Queen Victoria, retired early and devoted his entire life to the Jewish people. At the age of 65, he aided the Jews of Syria, at age 71 the Jews of Russia, at 78 the Jews of Morocco and at the age 84 the Jews of Romania. It is noteworthy that Sir Moses was highly regarded by gentile kings and heads of state because of his activism on behalf of his people.
Moses Montefiore is best known for his devotion to the city of Jerusalem, which he had visited several times. At that time Jerusalem was a crowded, impoverished home to many ethnic groups and religions packed into the Old City. No one could leave the walls of the city at night because of the great danger posed by thieves and highwaymen. With his huge sums of money, Sir Moses began buying up tracts of land outside of the Old City. In 1860 a viable settlement known as Mishkenot She’anannim was established. Residents could work inside the city walls, yet have a safe haven for their families outside. Soon after, Sir Moses decided that he wanted to do more to help the Jews of the city become self-supporting, and he built a windmill to grind grain into flour.
Sir Moses Montefiore lived to be 100 years of age, and this special birthday was celebrated by Jews the world over.
Lessons From the Story
It would be hard to overestimate the impact that Sir Moses Montefiore’s acts of tzedaka and chesed had upon the city of Jerusalem and on behalf of the entire Jewish people. World Jewry learned so much from him. He taught us that we have a responsibility to Jews in need all over the world—that wherever we may live, we have a responsibility to support Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim. He demonstrated, by building the windmill, that we must strive to fulfill the Rambam’s highest level of tzedaka by enabling poor people to become self-sufficient.
We will never know how much Sir Moses Montefiore ultimately contributed to the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and to the eventual establishment of the state of Israel. Sir Moses Montefiore and his wife, Lady Judith, never had any children. But he will be lovingly remembered by all for his tzedaka and chesed and as an extraordinary practitioner of Step #4.