For years now I cherish the opportunity to visit the Kotel regularly. I never fail to be inspired by the holiness of the setting. Yet each visit, other than on Friday night, produces in me a sense of anxiety. The Kotel has its regulars. I do not refer to the faithful who study and pray there every day. I refer to the men and women who faithfully sit on the stairs leading down to the Kotel square and those who patrol the prayer courtyard seeking a hand-out. I see the same faces, hear the same pleas, each time I go.
They are as much a part of the tapestry as are the pigeons that inhabit the holy walls.
It is these regulars that cause me anxiety. What is my obligation to them? Are they really poor and in need? Or are they just taking advantage of an opportunity to make an income without much effort? I once heard that a veteran of Kotel collecting passed away and was found to have a small fortune stashed away. I hate to not give. But the last thing I want to do is support a fraud, especially when Israel is full of the truly needy. Yes or no to the requests. Either way I doubt if I did right.
The Torah in this week's parsha of Re'eh offers me some guidance. The reading contains several passages outlining my obligation to the poor and needy. Specifially the Torah tells us with reference to underpriveleged "And you shall surely open your hand to him and sustain him so that he has all that which he is lacking."
Rashi on the verse, in accord with the teachings of the Talmud, explains that we must even provide a horse for him to ride and a servant to attend to him if that is what the needy one is lacking.
We might wonder how can that be? To feed the poor, clothe them, provide them shelter we understand. Those are basic human needs. We must provide from our largesse to care for our brother's and sister's needs. But why a horse for him or her to ride or a valet?
Those are wants not needs.
The answer is we began with the wrong premis. We assumed that the call to help is dependent on their being a true need. Not so. Our obligation to our fellow Jew is not simply to see to his/her needs. It's much more. Our obligation is to meet our brother or sister's requests. Hesed, the call to loving kindness, demands of us to do what our brother or sister asks of us, independent of whether they need it or deserve it.
It does not matter if they can do it for themselves. It does not matter if they have earned it. It does not matter their level of need. If a brother or sister asks something of us its our sacred responsiblity to try to fulfill the request.
When we understand that our charge to help another emanates from the other's request
we stop making judgements. True many of those collecting money at the Kotel and elsewhere may not be needy or deserving. Maybe they would be better off getting a job.
Maybe they mismanage their money or worse, their life. That's not my business however.
They asked me. They put out a request. It's their desire. And unless I can be sure that fulfilling that desire will be harmful to them it's my mitzva to respond and say "yes".
We need to change our perspective. The mitzva of doing 'hesed', acts of lovingkindness begins with the person, not the circumstances! Whatever brings another happiness is our mitzva to do. We need no evaluation, no assessment. No judgements need to be made.
Sometimes someone may say to us "Can you do me a favor?" Öur answer is too often "what?"
That's the wrong answer. That implies we will hear favor and decide if we think it's justified and warrants our initative. The right answer when someone asks us if we can do them a favor is "yes". Then we can go on to hear the details.
The Torah this week is teaching us to not be afraid to say "Yes" to another. We need to say "Yes". At the Kotel, on the street, in our homes, both with those we know and the stranger their is only one answer, "Yes".
In saying "ÿes" we give the other a gift as great as the favor we hopefully will do. In saying "ÿes" we affrim him/her. By saying "ÿes" unconditionally to the other's desire we say s/he matters to us. In saying "ÿes" we say to the person "even though you are asking for a favor, and may feel diminished in needing us, we value you."
When it comes to helping another there is only one answer "yes". All the rest is commentary.