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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Emulating our most giving forefather

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Rabbi David Appelrouth

One of the remarkable characteristics of our Jewish community is the amount of philanthropy we have. I’m aware of innumerable worthy local and international organizations that the Toronto Jewish community provides for. Our community is like the perennial “Giving Tree” that keeps on giving.

The trait of giving isn’t new to our nation. In fact, our spiritual DNA is predicated on a desire to help others. While it’s wonderful that Toronto emulates the trait of our ancestors, let’s appreciate for a moment just how far “giving” can go.

Our forefather, Abraham, is known as the pillar of charity, the “Amud Hachesed.” In this week’s Torah reading, we get a sense of his wide charitable net.

The community of Sodom and Gomorrah was the antithesis of Abraham when it came to charity. Even though they lived in the most opulent place in Canaan, the Sodomites drafted legislation that forbade charity. Not only was it a crime to host a guest or feed the poor, but it was punishable by death!

Before God lays waste to Sodom, he beckons Abraham to defend it.

“Could you destroy the city if you could find 50 righteous men?” Abraham argues. It would be inappropriate, Abraham reasoned, to destroy Sodom if even a handful of righteous people resided there.

Abraham pleads until he realizes that in the absence of all righteousness, Sodom indeed deserves destruction.

In principle, how could Abraham defend Sodom? Wouldn’t he loathe Sodom for its stinginess? Even if there were 10 righteous individuals, what about the thousands of wicked locals?

The Nitziv, in the introduction to his magnum opus the Emek Davar, answers with certainty that Abraham hated the city. He disagreed to the core with what it stood for. But Abraham differentiated the crime from the criminal. He understood that despite their wicked acts, people could still possess a vestige of goodness.

We may never attain Abraham’s level of giving. But there is something we can do.

We live in a large Jewish community. We could pick a shul or a neighbourhood with like-minded people. We could find our niche and never look beyond it. This is the most comfortable option, but it’s a closed mentality.

In my few years in Toronto, in my job as a rabbi, I’ve learned to embrace Jews from all walks of life. I, too, must struggle with not identifying people by their dress. But by getting to know people, pushing past the externals, I learn to see the pearls of greatness that lie within Jews from across the entire spectrum.

We are a city of givers. We’re a philanthropic bunch. Like our ancestor Abraham, let us learn to not just give with our wallets, but to see with our hearts.

You don’t have to defend a Sodomite, and you don’t have to change your bling. You just have to think outside of your box. And in doing so, you climb one rung closer to the greatness of our most charitable forefather.

Rabbi Appelrouth is educational director at the Temmy Latner Forest Hill Jewish Centre in Toronto.

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