Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Va'ad Harabonim Leinyonei Deyoma
Stepping into a close acquaintance's house past Purim, I spotted the editor of one of the most prestigious Hareidi newspapers agitatedly gesticulating and arguing about something, even with his clown costume on. Besides my burning desire to completely - and literally - fulfill the mitzvas hayom by consumption of liquid barley (according to my wife the only mitzvah I meticulously fulfill year-round) I had to deal with my own familial catastrophes (only my younger daughter got a dollar - a real one, of paper - from the aforementioned "clownie", the older daughter rejected all consolation even after receiving a silver dollar from Zaidie, and the calamity that befell my wife was really serious, to be sure - the kids smeared chocolate on her beautiful skirt -which was anyway black. Hey, I'm getting smeared every day with fat, blood, tomato sauce, cream, gravy and what not all over, but I guess without being paid for it, that counts for a bad thing), so I couldn't stay to hear what the great brouhaha was all about.
After all the relics left of Scotland and Czech-land were empty bottles, their contents deliciously turned into heat energy, the silver dollar duly converted into an unfalsifiable portrait of George Washington, I was now ready to be filled in on the details of Mr. Editor's outrage;
Turns out that during the course of an ordinary Purim chit-chat, Mr. Editor was informed that the baal-habayis' daughter-in-law was working for the Va'ad Harabonim Leinyonei Tzdokah. Her toils consisted in picking up calls and taking down the details, 24/6/approx 302, forward the transactions to the credit-card processing companies and making deposits, and her salary consisted of twenty thousand American Dollars. I found this as indignant as Mr. Editor did at the time, yet to date he hasn't uttered a word in his esteemed publication, which I find even more outrageous. That people should be paid for their troubles - I totally agree. Even what seemed to infuriate Mr. Editor most, namely the Va'ad's claim every single penny goes into the pauper's pockets, didn't bother me as much as the fact that the recipient of this non-lucrative sacred position isn't one of the people on the va'ad's roster. After all, wouldn’t it make more sense to put a tragedy-struck person on the payroll and ‘earn’ his charity in a more dignified way? Now, in case you imagine that the aforementioned Good Lakewoodian is a wretched kollel wife constrained to live on carobs and stream water, and to diaper her children with fig leaves, I have some news for you. If the New Jersey Department Of Family Development is unable (or rather unwilling, to be more honest) to figure out that Mr. and Mrs. Va’ad Harabonim Employees own three houses and are supported by Mrs.’s father, I’d expect that the Va’ad would make sure to verify to whom they channel the money with which the public has entrusted them. I remember that in the very beginning of the Va’ad’s establishing, Rav Yaakov Fisher ZTS”L said that “this kuppah can be trusted like that of R’ Chanina Ben Tradyon”. (For those uninitiated, let’s just say that this is an extremely strong expression of trustworthiness and honesty.) All who were even faintly acquainted with Rav Fisher ZTS”L know that such expressions very seldom crossed his lips, if ever. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if he would repeat this phrase today. In fact I’m sure he wouldn’t.
That the Va’ad is a valid, and unfortunately necessary organization is unquestionable. Many of their recipients are tragedy stricken families who lost their livelihood under disastrous circumstances, ranging from fatal illnesses to terror attacks and various accidents. It is beyond the slightest shade of a doubt that not only as Jews, but as human beings, we owe these families our full support. Unfortunately, a non-negligible portion of the Va’ad’s list is made up of people who became public charges totally through their own fault. I am fully aware that self-caused necessity, even through irresponsibility, doesn’t automatically exempt us from the obligation of charity; yet prioritizing our charities is fully permitted, and in fact a quite clear list of priorities exists in halocha, and the aforementioned cases aren’t explicitly on that list, and can be included only in the cases at its bottom.
What I can absolutely not understand is why aren’t there any such big, widely-known and Rabbinically endorsed organizations who’s aim is to try preventing, poverty and debt, instead of only helping after the damage is done. The usual answer to this suggestion is that it would be impossible. Experience, however, shows that with good will such possibilities can very well be explored – frum corporations IDT, and recently Empire Enterprises are actually supporting learning/working individuals as part of their frameworks. Nevertheless, the first step should be a very strong educational emphasis on honesty, integrity, and decency, of which abundant sifrei mussar and other ethical works are full, yet their teaching are still by and large far more abstract than practical. I fully support the notion of devoting one’s life to the study of Torah, yet this has either to come at the expense of material well-being and relinquishing far more than just lavishness, or being rich enough to afford not to work, which in the Yeshiva world is usually accomplished by marrying a rich girl. This option is (un)fortunately open only to those who excel in Torah studies, but gives no-one license to act in an irresponsible and conceited, let alone dishonest way. The same is just as true to those who don’t yearn to consecrate their lives to Torah study, only wish to stay in their cozy enclave and lavishly live its lifestyle – fourteen kids, their healthcare and private education, let alone food and clothing come at a price to say the least – wanting a nice house, nice car and not having to toil for it borders both insanity and criminality.
A charity organization is a tremendous lifesaver to those struck with poverty, yet its support of irresponsible people only encourages more of the same behavior. A fund that helps integrate poor people – whether Kollel vets or otherwise – into the workforce, (preferably frum) helps learning a profession etc. would be far more effective. We’d all be better off if frum business owners would employ their own brothers instead of illegal immigrants whom they anyway must support via the taxes imposed by the corrupt politicians they courted to gain the social services who’s majority is being spent on black slums and unlawful aliens. Lower taxes would then turn to higher wages to our brethren, less charity to spend on them, and the public’s ability to afford these workers.
Wouldn’t modeling ourselves after Yaakov Ovinu, Reb Yochanan HaSandlar and accepting Rav Avigdor Miller’s teachings make more sense?
(Two individual anecdotes related to the subject will follow in the comments section at a later time.)