Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,
I grew up on your Jewish Press columns. On Shabbos we would always discuss the guidance you offered readers that week. My parents both passed away several years ago but your articles give me a sense of connection to them.
Your most recent columns have made a particularly vivid impression on me. Somehow I never associated tzedakah with a smile or a helping hand or even making someone laugh in the midst of their pain. It always meant money.
It really hit home when you pointed out that on Yom Kippur G-d forgives us with a smile and loving embrace. You poignantly explained that we have a mandate to emulate our Heavenly Father. This holds true for every area of life. G-d is our perfect role model and we must try to reflect His commandments in our everyday behavior.
But how can we translate these beautiful ideals into action, Rebbetzin, especially given the sordid reality of the world around us?
You once wrote about an elderly widow who lived alone and depended on her two sons to take her on her weekly visits to the doctor. One son was impoverished and lived a very modest lifestyle. The other was fabulously wealthy and enjoyed all the luxuries of life.
When it was the rich son’s turn to take the mother to the doctor, he’d complain. In an annoyed tone of voice he’d say things like, “How many times do I have to tell you to be ready when I come?” Or “Look, Mom, I’m a busy man. I have appointments. I have business meetings. I just cannot go on interrupting my day to take you to your doctor.”
The impoverished son, on the other hand, never complained and went out of his way to treat his mother with respect and compassion.
Two brothers, one wealthy and one impoverished, fulfilling the same mitzvah of honoring parents. One chauffeured his mother in a luxurious car while the other, who couldn’t even afford a used car, escorted her to her appointments via bus or subway. You asked your readers which of the sons was on a higher level.
Some might think it was the son who transported his mother in a large, luxurious car. But as you pointed out, according to the Torah it’s not what you give but how you give that counts. The poor son, who couldn’t afford to treat his mother with the opulence he felt she deserved, enveloped her in love and kindness, in stark contrast to the rich son with his big car.
As you can tell, the story really stuck with me, even though it’s been a long time since I read it. And your recent columns on the meaning of tzedakah only served to reinforce the message. But as I mentioned above, my parents are no longer living, so I am unable to set an example for my children by exhibiting the love and respect toward them that the Torah expects us to give our parents (and all elderly persons in our orbit, for that matter).
Please don’t misunderstand. My children are good kids but just the same they are influenced by our vacuous culture. Our society lacks role models who reflect kindness, morality, honesty and integrity.
What I would like to know from you, Rebbetzin, is how I can overcome this cultural corruption and implement Torah values in my home. My husband and I come from traditional backgrounds. We were raised to respect our parents, our grandparents, our teachers, our rabbis. But today everything is different. So how do I get my children to give with a full heart and not begrudge anyone? How do I prevail upon them not to be jealous?
I realize some people reading my letter will think, “Why doesn’t this woman just do what she has to do as a Jewish mother? Just follow the course and everything will fall into place.” I am familiar with such glib responses. I am aware that too many people think they know it all.
But those who would shrug off my concerns as exaggerated or even groundless are being myopic about the world today. It’s not the world we grew up in. Everything is hazardous to one’s spiritual health – music, movies, TV, smart phones, the Internet, etc.