Giving Tuesday

Anyone to whom a painful incident has happened must announce it publicly so that the public will pray for mercy on his behalf.
— BT Sotah 32b

Wait a minute, it's not Thursday. Why are you getting Weekly Jewish Wisdom today? Because it's Giving Tuesday, and we can't miss this opportunity to think about giving today in a Jewish way. We don't miss an opportunity to give because of an obscure statement in the Talmud that surfaced in last week's daily Talmud study cycle. If anyone has suffered, he or she has an obligation to announce it so that others can pray on his or her behalf.

This is an outgrowth of a law from Leviticus 13:45 that involves a leper announcing his presence among other people. We might think the leper tells others he is approaching with a clapper or a cry to keep people away because of contagion. This may be a medical reality, but the Talmud has an existential reality in mind. When someone announces pain, our responsibility is to come to his or her aid. There cannot be a pronouncement without a response. It is not the Jewish way.

Later on, the Talmud - in its discussion of prayers that can be recited in any language versus those that must be said in Hebrew - concludes that, "When it comes to praying for divine mercy, one may pray in any language one desires," [BT Sota 33a]. People need opportunities to pray for others and to pray for themselves. There is no shame in making oneself vulnerable. The recognition of others and the recognition of our own vulnerabilities is the key to our humanity.

In his seminal article, "The Community," Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik asked, "How is the community formed? The answer is simple: two lonely individuals create a community in the manner that God created the world. What was God's instrument of creation? The word." For Rabbi Soloveitchik, words are the building blocks of community; they are the cement that holds us together. "To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he is expendable, that there is no need for him." Recognizing a person is taking that person in totally, hearing that person's needs, triumphs, pain. That is why Rabbi Soloveitchik believed that all prayer is in the plural; prayer is an act of recognition of the other.

"The prayer community, it is self-evident, must at the same time be a charity-community, as well. It is not enough to feel the pain of many, nor is it sufficient to pray...We give, we pray for all because we are sensitive to pain; we try to help..." The word is a recognition of the other; the word turns into prayer and prayer turns into action.

If the Talmud tells us to make a public announcement about pain or need to inspire help, then Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to respond publicly and collectively to that pain and share some amazing generosity to inspire us to turn words into action.

David Weissman has been working on behalf of this charity for decades. For hours a day he turns gasoline into love.

So here's something that inspired me. My husband and I were in an Uber this week and talked to the driver about his experience, his hours and the change in the industry that is happening as a result of Uber. He said he retired and started driving for a charity he really cares about. Twenty percent of his earnings goes to the company, 20% to gas and car maintenance and the remaining 60% goes to charity. What charity, we wondered, was the lucky beneficiary of all this driving time? The Israel Sports Center for the Disabled, a pioneer in sports rehabilitation. For over 50 years, the center has helped thousands: those born with disabilities and those who have been injured in military or terrorist incidents. David Weissman, our driver, has been working on behalf of this charity for decades. For hours a day he turns gasoline into love.

If you're thinking about where to give today - no matter the amount - think about David behind the wheel so that kids and adults in wheelchairs can feel empowered and make a donation to the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled in David's honor. Click here.

Today's the day. Turn someone else's cry into a prayer, a word into a deed, and a deed into an act of redemption.

An early Shabbat Shalom to you all.