We have all heard the expression Charity begins at home. We may also be familiar with the levels of responsibility in giving charity. It starts with those closest to us, our family and then extends to our community, our city, Jews across the world and the rest of the world. Each of these levels is a priority that if you only have a limited amount of funds, you should support those closest to you. However, if you have enough, then the Mitzvah of Tzedakah requires us to give as broadly as possible. Why isn’t it enough for me to generously support my family and friends? What is wrong if I am generous with my family and friends and don’t support other needs?
In this week’s Torah reading Parsha Shmini, the Torah lists the types of animals we may and may not eat. When it comes to birds, the Torah lists 24 species of birds that we may not eat. Ramban teaches that the reason why these 24 species of birds are prohibited is because each one of them has a cruel character. Most of them are birds of prey or scavengers. We don’t ingest animals that have negative character traits. Included in the list is a bird known as the Chasidah, frequently translated as the stork. Rashi quotes the Talmud who asks why is this bird called a Chasidah? It is because she performs Chesed – kindness, by providing food for her family and close ones. The name reflects her character, in that she performs Chesed. If that is the case, why is the Chasidah one of the prohibited birds?
The Chidushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, First Gerer Rebbe 1794-1866), explains that while it is true that she is kind to her family and takes care of their needs, she does not provide for anyone else. She only cares about her family. This is not an act of kindness. This is an act of selfishness. If a person only cares about their own family or their own friends, that shows that they are only interested in taking care of their own. I take care of My family, My friends. It is all about me, not them. A person like this is not doing it for the sake of others. To be a true Baal Chesed, you have to help others for their sake, not for your own sake.
The laws of Tzedakah require us to support those closest to us because we have a greater responsibility to them. It is natural that we care more about them. Love Your Fellow as yourself extends beyond your family and friends. If we truly are helping others for the right reasons, it will manifest itself in caring about others as well.
Rabbi Shaps and the JET Team