Dear Rabbi Anna, Members and Friends,
In an idle moment, not that I have many of those these days, I was thinking ahead to the High Holy Days and musing on the topic of charity. In one of the services there is a section about charity. Different types of charity are listed from best to not so meritorious, such as charity where the recipient does not know the donor and the donor does not know the recipient and no-one knows that the donor has given anything.
And then there is the saying ‘Charity begins at home’. Sounds a little surprising, but I presume the phrase does not mean monetary charity and so there must other types of charity. The word derives from the Latin ‘caritas’ meaning ‘dear’ and the word ‘charity’ appeared in late Old English and meant ‘Christian love of one’s fellows’.
So charity is motivated by love (compassion, empathy and the desire to make life better for others) and sometimes manifests itself by the giving of money. Where is ‘home’? I think ‘home’ in this case means ‘the people you know’, whether under your roof, in your family, among your friends or within your community. And ‘begins’ has to mean that this is your prime responsibility. What factors make an act of charity better? – when it is uncomfortable for the donor – monetarily (or otherwise) or by giving way for the sake of others. You want to say something. Think first. Could it upset someone? Bite your tongue. Don’t say it. That is charity. Someone says something which does upset you. Try not to react. Preserve the relationship. Swallow your pride. That is charity.
On occasions you will think someone has been unreasonable. Consider apologising yourself for the difficult situation. It is very hard to do, but that is charity. Put yourself in the shoes of others. Try to understand their difficulties. Accept that they are not perfect, not always thoughtful. After all, you are not perfect or always thoughtful. Give some leeway. That is charity.
I have tried to adopt these ways of thinking and behaving. Being diplomatic, tolerant, understanding and forgiving are important for the Chair of a synagogue and for everyone in all situations.
The above is not an exercise in writing prose. This is something for you to read and to think about and to change your behaviour and approach. Don’t shrug it off. Make the world a better place. Bring us a little closer to the Messianic age. Be charitable. Otherwise, why are you here?