Thursday, 19 June 2008

Please, Can you Help Me?

On the sister blogspot Dwelling Place Below will find a new series of articles dealing with the laws of giving charity. Let us take a look at a real story to help us consider just what we are giving and whether our giving is in fact what is being asked for.

The following story took place some years ago. When walking down a main road, Leah noticed a beggar who was different. Something caught her attention. Why would someone who had a tracheostomy be on the street? If he needed such a procedure, surely he should be receiving medical attention and some kind of assistance through that?

Leah walked up to the "beggar"and greeted him. She asked him how he was and gradually geared the conversation to why he was there. It turned out that this man was an immigrant to the country where Leah was and had developed Yena Machela in his throat. The disease spread quite quickly after being detected and necessitated his having a tracheotomy, a hole made in his wind pipe through which he could breathe. The nature of the "beggars" work involved his climbing a ladder several times a day, which was now too taxing for him. In addition he often became exposed to various smells or gases which again was not good for him with this new diagnosis and the tracheotomy. As a result, very soon after ending up in hospital he became un-employed and as a result ended up on the street.

As an health practitioner, Leah was aware of the procedure for evaluating a persons ability to work, whether s/he qualified for rehabilitation to seek more suitable employment and whether s/he qualified for a disability grant. After some enquiry she found out that she knew the hospital where the "beggar" had been a patient and also some of the staff members. Leah wrote a note to the "beggars" doctor on a piece of paper from her handbag requesting referral to certain key members of the team and gave it to the man.

The next week, he was back in the same place and a few enquiries indicated that there was a snag. What was it? Through taking the time to ask what had happened, Leah found out that he was an immigrant and hence the social worker stated he did not qualify for a disability grant. The relevant occupational therapist was away.

At this point the conversation changed direction. Had the doctors given any prognosis and what did he, the "beggar" really want?

Yes, they had given a prognosis and it was not very long. The "beggar" dearly wanted to return to his family but did not have the money to do so. He was sure that his family would be able to take care of him for the last months or year of his life but he did not have the means to get in touch with them or to travel to them.

Leah asked if he would be prepared to put a small story explaining his situation in the local community paper. He readily agreed and agreed to be in touch with the necessary persons from the community paper. Leaving him with the necessary contact information and money for a call from a public phone, Leah reasured him she would meet him again.

There was no again though. Very quickly the "beggar" was no longer in his place. After a few weeks of not finding him, Leah became concerned. Not knowing what to do, she asked another beggar if he had seen the "beggar" in question. It turned out that the story in the community paper was successful. Our "beggar" friend was given the means through kind donations and gifts to purchase an air ticket to return to his family abroad. He was given the opportunity to fulfil his dying wish and that was to return to his family whom he had not seen for over 20 years. He was given the gift of settling any un-finished business he might have had with them. Above all this, he was given the opportunity to die in peace and with dignity.

What can we learn from this situation? The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that every single detail is directed by Hashem. He teaches further that we are supposed to use everything Hashem gives us for the good.

So often we see a beggar in the street or open the door to someone requesting help and presume we know what they want. We presume that a few coins will solve their problems and might even pat outselves on the back for having given some charity that day. It is, however, very easy to neglect asking whether a few coins is what is needed. And if some money is required, how much is necessary and what is the real need.

If we would just talk to the one who asks for help, we might discover that Hashem has sent us someone that we can personally help in a far great manner. Yes the beggar in Leah's story asked for money. But he had not mentioned that what he really wanted was someone to open the door for him to return home to his family. He did not know how to admit that he was dying or that he really needed a ticket home. A ticket to die at home, surrounded by his loved ones.

Next time someone asks you for help, money or advise. Stop a minute. Say Hello. As the great Shammai taught, greet them with a friendly countenance. Ask them what they really need and then take a moment to go over in your mind whether you have the skills, connections or any means to help them obtain their true goal in life. Leah did not have the money for an air ticket. She did not have contacts in the country her beggar friend had come from. But she had some knowledge and ideas and readily shared them with him. In this way, she unlocked the door and enabled him to progress on his journey in the manner he needed to go and not in the manner he presented on the street corner.

May you be blessed with the patience and wisdom to know just how to give to those who ask from who. May you be blessed with the humility to give on the highest level in the most appropriate manner, taking care to respect your fellow and not embarrass him in any way, G-d forbid. Through your sensitivity, may Hashem open the doors to you and whomever you help along the way that the effort you put in can be truly what is right and appropriate.

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