Charity organizations and interest-free loan funds have been established in almost every Jewish community. With complete integrity, those in charge of tzedakah funds manage large sums of money for lending to anyone in need of cash to support his business and get back on his feet. Indeed, this is the essence of the mitzvah, as Rashi explains in this week’s parshah: “You shall support him. Do not allow him to fall down and collapse altogether, in which case it would be difficult to pick him up again. Rather, ‘support him’ while his hand is still faltering … like the load on a donkey. While still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, five people cannot pick it up.”
Of course, money is important. But, adds the S’fas Emes, zt”l, aside from the financial aspect, when a person knows there is someone out there willing to help him and allow him to thrive and succeed in the big, scary world of commerce, there is no greater manner of v’hechezakta bo – supporting and strengthening a fellow human being to become the best that he can be.
A true story occurred in 1892 at Stanford University, in southern California. It is a story within a story, and it displays the goodness of the human psyche and how that goodness can accomplish so much for so many people.
It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked
Ignacy Paderewski as a man with a great big heart
An 18-year-old American university student was struggling to pay his fees. He was an extremely bright fellow and looked forward to a great future. However, he was an orphan and was severely strapped for cash. Not knowing where to turn, he came up with a bright idea. He and a friend decided to host a musical concert on the Stanford campus to raise money for their education. They reached out to the great Polish pianist, Ignacy J. Paderewski. His manager demanded a guaranteed fee of $2,000 for the piano recital. A deal was struck and the boys began to work to make the concert a success.
The big day arrived. But unfortunately, they had not managed to sell enough tickets. The total collection was only $1,600. Disappointed, they went to Paderewski and explained their plight. They gave him the entire $1,600, plus a check for the balance of $400. They didn’t have the money yet, but they promised to honor the check as soon as they were able to.
“No,” said Paderewski. “This is not acceptable.” He tore up the check, returned the $1,600 and told the two boys, “Here’s your money. Please deduct whatever expenses you have incurred. Keep the money you need for your fees. And just give me whatever is left.” The boys were shocked – and thrilled – and they thanked Paderewski profusely.
It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked Ignacy Paderewski as a man with a great big heart. He had no reason to do what he did. He did not ask for nor expect anything in return. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do.
History will show that Ignacy Paderewski went on to become the prime minister of Poland. He was a great and beloved leader, and worked diligently to have an independent Poland accepted among the League of Nations. When World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918, it signaled the end of a harsh, dramatic, and battle-fatigued war. But hostilities are only officially ended on a specific date; the effects of hostilities carry on well into the future. By 1919, millions of children in Poland were starving. There was no food to provide for a suffering nation. The newly formed government of Poland had no resources with which it could buy food. Desperate to help his people, the prime minister of Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, turned to the United States Food and Relief Administration for help.
The head of the administration was a man named Herbert Hoover – who later went on to become the U.S. president. Hoover immediately agreed to help and quickly shipped many tons of food and grain to feed the starving Polish people.
A calamity was averted. Paderewski was relieved. He traveled across the ocean to meet Hoover and personally thank him for his kindness. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover for his noble gesture, Hoover quickly interjected and said, “You shouldn’t be thanking me, Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but almost a quarter-century ago you helped two young students pay their way through college. Due to your generosity, they succeeded. I was one of them!”
The world is a wonderful place. What goes around comes around!
Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail Torahtavlin@yahoo.com