Tales of Tzedakah - 6
Tonight is the eighth night of Chanukah, and we therefore light eight lights.
Rav Yoel Teitelbaum - the Satmar Rebbe - was recognized as one of the leading Torah sages of his era, and as we shall discuss in the letter that follows, he was a great tzadik who was a great tzedakah activist. The Satmar Rebbe was also known for his strong opposition to the secular Zionist movement; moreover, he felt that Zionist leaders were leading the Jewish people astray by encouraging them to view "nationalism" as the basis of their Jewish identity, instead of the Torah. There are other related reasons for his opposition to the modern Zionist movement which are the topic for a different discussion. The followers of the Satmar Rebbe, however, are not to be confused with a very tiny fringe group whose members wear Chassidic garb and who publicly demonstrate with the P.L.O., along with other anti-Israel groups. These demonstrations in support of Israel's enemies have been condemned by the leadership of all major Jewish communities, including the Satmar community. In fact, when a group of young Satmar zealots participated in such a demonstration when the Rebbe was still alive, the Satmar Rebbe expelled them from the Satmar community.
The Satmar Rebbe's opposition to the modern Zionist movement is well-known, but his great love and concern for the needy is not as well-known. One reason is because "tzadikim" - righteous individuals - do not seek publicity about their good deeds; on the contrary, they prefer to perform these good deeds in a hidden and modest manner. Nevertheless, it is helpful for us to know about their good deeds, so that we can be inspired to do good deeds of our own. The following letter will therefore contain information and stories about the Rebbe's loving devotion to the mitzvah of tzedakah:
My upstairs neighbor, Reb Kalman Schlesinger, is a Satmar Chassid who studied under the previous Satmar Rebbe. Reb Kalman is a tzedakah activist, and this is not surprising, as the book, "The Tzedakah Treasury," describes how the Satmar Rebbe demanded from all his followers that they should get personally involved in collecting tzedakah. It is not enough, said the Rebbe, merely to put your hand in your pocket and give away a few coins or dollars; one must also go around from door to door and collect money for the needy. He urged his followers to exert themselves on behalf of others, for that is how the mitzvah is best done. He insisted that even the wealthiest people should go around from door to door collecting for the needy. When a wealthy individual would offer to give the Rebbe the full amount in order to avoid the indignity of having to go collecting, the Rebbe would refuse the offer. He wanted the wealthy to get personally involved in this mitzvah; moreover, the experience of going from door to door would give the wealthy givers a taste of what it is like to have to beg. In this way, they would learn to have more empathy with the desperate plight of the destitute. The Satmar Rebbe also established a rule in his yeshiva that every student was expected to go out periodically to collect tzedakah contributions.
The highest form of tzedakah is to help people support themselves, and the Rebbe excelled in this aspect of tzedakah. The Rebbe himself was a Holocaust survivor who arrived in the United States as a poor refugee, and he settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. When other Chassidic Holocaust survivors from Hungary, Romania, and nearby countries heard that the noted Satmar Rebbe had survived and was living in Brooklyn, they gathered around him and asked him to serve as their Rebbe. The Rebbe not only guided them spiritually and comforted them, he also helped them to establish businesses or to learn new trades which would be useful in America. Within a few years, under the Rebbe's dynamic leadership, a network of impoverished Holocaust survivors was transformed into a thriving community where people were able to support themselves and help others!
The Satmar Chassidim are known for their tzedakah activism, as well as for their devotion to the sick. Most large hospitals have a Jewish chaplain who visits Jewish patients, and the chaplain's work is supplemented by volunteers from the Satmar community. These volunteers are members of the Satmar "Bikur Cholim" Society - the "Visiting the Sick" Society - which was founded and led for many years by the Satmar Rebbe's wife, Rebbitzen Alte Faiga Teitelbaum. The Satmar volunteers also cook and provide kosher food to Jewish patients and their visitors without charge; moreover, meals are prepared for those with special dietary restrictions. The Satmar volunteers strive to meet the needs of all Jewish patients, regardless of affiliation or level of observance. It is therefore not surprising that Jewish patients of diverse beliefs and backgrounds praise the warmth and concern of the Satmar Chassidim.
"The Tzedakah Treasury" has a story which describes how the Rebbe began his career of tzedakah activism as a young boy when he first started school. Although young Yoel came from a comfortable home, he noticed that many of his classmates did not have enough to eat. He therefore began giving away his lunch and snacks on a daily basis. He observed that many poor boys came to school in the rain, snow, and freezing cold with ragged clothes and torn shoes. Their plight gave his warm heart no rest. Secretly, he called together all the boys who came from wealthy homes and made the first tzedakah appeal of his life: "My friends!" he cried, "My parents give me spending money and your parents give you spending money. But money is worthless! It has absolutely no value unless it is used for tzedakah to help the poor. Let us put together our pennies and collect a respectable sum for our ragged classmates." Young Yoel's plea made a tremendous impact on the boys. They pooled their resources, and together they went to the local tailors and shoe makers, ordered new clothes and shoes for the underprivileged boys, and distributed the goods to their needy classmates.
When I asked my neighbor, Reb Kalman, to tell me some stories about the Satmar Rebbe, he told me the following story which he recently heard from a Chassidic friend in Willamsburg, who is involved in real estate. His friend was examining a building at the edge of Wiliamsburg, and an elderly African American man approached him and asked in Yiddish: "Did you know Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe?" When his friend said that he indeed had the privilege of knowing the Rebbe, the man replied: "You didn't really know him; no one really knew him." And he proceeded to tell the Chassid the following story which took place during the early years of the Satmar community in Williamsburg:
As a young man, he had lost his job and couldn't find work. Things got so bad that he didn't even have a place to live. One day, he just sat on the staircase of a house in Willamsburg and began to cry, as he had no place to go. Although he didn't know it, this was the home of the Satmar Rebbe. The Rebbe was returning home with a group of his followers, and he noticed the young man who was crying on the staircase of his home. The Rebbe didn't speak English well, so he sent his assistant to ask him what he wanted. The assistant spoke to him, and when the assistant relayed to the Rebbe the sad story, the Rebbe invited him into the house. The Rebbe told his assistant to tell him that he will have a room in the house, and that the Rebbe will give him a job helping the Rebbitzen (the Rebbe's wife) with all the various communal functions. He accepted the offer of the Satmar Rebbe, and he eventually learned how to speak fluent Yiddish!
After telling the Chasid his story, the elderly African American added: "I worked for him many years, and throughout that period the Rebbe and his family always treated me with great respect."
My neighbor, Reb Kalman Schlesinger, has a tzedakah project of his own, called "Ergun Baruch U'Marpe" in memory of his father, Reb Baruch Schlesinger. In Israel, ambulance service is not free, so my neighbor contributed funds and raised funds to acquire a couple of ambulances. The drivers of these ambulances are also trained in first aid. These ambulances serve the needs of those who cannot afford the fee of regular Israeli ambulances. And when there is a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, his ambulances rush to help bring the wounded to hospitals. In addition, Ergun Baruch U'Marpe organizes gatherings for children in hospitals, especially around the holidays. My neighbor's project services all segments of the population, and social workers at the local hospitals will sometimes refer people to his service. Ergun Baruch U'Marpe also helps terrorist victims and their families. In his own way, my neighbor is continuing the tzedakah activism of the Satmar Rebbe.
Shalom, and a Happy Chanukah,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. It is written, "Those who cause the multitudes to be righteous will shine like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). The Talmud (Baba Basra 8b) explains that this statement refers to the tzedekah collectors. In this spirit, the Satmar Rebbe encouraged his followers to not only give tzedekah, but to collect for tzedekah. In fact, the Talmud (Baba Basra 9a) states in the name of Rabbi Elazar that one who causes others to give is even greater than one who gives himself. The source of his greatness lies in the difficulty of his endeavor. The Chofetz Chaim says that if a person has collected a thousand rubles for a charitable fund, he has undoubtedly undergone considerable emotional and perhaps physical hardship in the process (Lovingkindness - A Lesson A Day).
2. Tax-deductable contributions to Ergun Baruch U'Marpe can be sent to: 4718 18th Ave, Suite 149, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. In Israel, contributions can be sent to: Binyan Sha'arei Ha'ir, 216 Jaffa St., Jerusalem. Please mention that you heard about it from Yosef Hakohen in Bayit Vegan.
3. Some of the information in the above letter is taken from "The Tzedakah Treasury" by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, courtesy of the copyright holder, ArtScroll/Mesorah: www.artscroll.com
Hazon - Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/