Friday, January 30, 2009

A Helping Hand

Few defining features of Hasidim are noble. In general, the Hasidic culture is regressive, change resistant, and reluctant to acknowledge shortcomings or demonstrate a willingness to improve for the better. But every rule has its exceptions, and this rule is no exception.

Perhaps the most wonderful characteristic of Hasidim is their generosity, kindness, and readiness to help their brethren in need. Hasidic centers swarm with volunteer organizations that provide relief, support, or general services to the community. There is a widespread trend among Hasidim to establish all sorts of charitable non-profits that you could or couldn’t dream of, whether L’Ilui Nishmas*, as a deal brokered with God, or just to make a difference. All common charities have long been founded, so amateurs have to be creative to come up with ingenious ways to help out.

One may argue the kindness is faith based and is therefore inferior to kindness motivated by a humanistic desire to help. One may argue that the same religion that commanded to love coreligionists commanded to hate infidels. But to the beneficiary it changes nothing. All that matters is that assistance reaches the needy.

All of the above is true within their habitat. Away from home base, Hasidim will go farther than the extra mile to extend a helping hand to a fellow Hasid. The natural instinct to back a townsman coupled with the sentiment for the two of them of not fitting in with the environment will bring them close together and each will protect the other.

I was once with a patient at Hackensack University Medical Center in Northern New Jersey. Although Hasidim frequent the hospital, it is not as inundated with frum people as are the NYC facilities. As I walked to fetch some items from my car parked on the fifth level of the garage, I must have looked helpless, because I was accosted twice by frum people who offered their assistance. To the one who wasn’t wearing a lab coat I replied, “How can I help you? The bathrooms are right there.” Okay. I didn’t actually say that, but that’s because I resisted a strong temptation.

HF lost all trust in Hasidic people, because some of them are registered sex offenders.

Sure thing parents shouldn’t teach their children to blindly trust a bearded face, but there is also no good reason not to trust them at all. Sure thing some frum people are perverts, dangerous, and will be more of a hindrance than help, but that’s no good reason to turn down every help offers.

Every tree has good apples and bad apples, and every ethnic group has good people and bad people. A Hasidic should count on his her fellow no less than an African can count on his bro from the hood.


L’Ilui Nishmas, henceforth LN: Literally, for the ascent of the soul.

In Cabbalistic teachings, a soul can posthumously reap dividends from the ripple effects of its good deeds on Earth. Moreover, living people who wish to do a favor for a soul can transfer credits from their mitzvah bank to the bank of the deceased. As it scores more points, the status of the soul is re-evaluated and it is assigned to a higher place in Heaven.

The process is similar to ordering flowers for a loved one. You give the florist the address, and the bouquet is delivered to its destination. So is it with LN. You pronounce the name of soul and its fathers name immediately prior to doing the mitzvah, and the scanning angels will route the package to the right department and credit the account accordingly.

Soul boosters can be anything from donating a building to serving refreshments in shul. Needless to say, the thrust effect varies greatly and is directly related to the magnitude of the action performed. While donating a building catapults a soul twenty levels at once, a l’chaim can’t do a lot more than a little inching.

The LN thing is so deeply entrenched, that anything not done LN is looked upon as odd. I once brought some used books to the synagogue library. The librarian asked me, “What should put as the LN?” “Your recently passed grandfather or the late Rebbe?”

“No”, I said. “Just deposit it in my own account.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “No LN?”

“Are you aware that your assets will be frozen until after your death?”

Yeah, I know. And it wouldn’t accumulate any interest either. (The Torah prohibits usury.)

Actually it makes better economic sense to do for our ancestors rather than ourselves. It’s like a pyramid formation. If it’s everybody for their selves, they only get one person’s worth of LN, whereas if each does for his or her predecessors, each gets many times more. Say one good Hasid has twelve children and each has twelve of its own, Grandpa gets LN*144. That’s a lot more bandwidth! It works like the social security system. The working generation pays for the retiring generation.


  1. thank you for expressing what i couldn't properly say, because my own vision is clouded!

  2. *! It works like the social security system. The working generation pays for the retiring generation.*

    With one major difference: While the social security system is plagued with a dwindling generation of benefactors, the LN system knows no such worries.


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