It’s Wednesday – December 3, 2014

Boker Tov.

We survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the new #GivingTuesday. Taken together, they make It’s Wednesday almost palatable. Three of the four are surely products of the Internet; Black Friday gets its major push from there nowadays.

I think about the Internet often.  For me, as a rabbi, it has a lot of big plusses. The Internet makes It’s Wednesday possible and that is a really important connection on many levels. It makes conveying messages and making appointments a zillion times more efficient than phone tag. Between Google and Wikipedia, I can find quick and pretty accurate answers to a host of questions that come up when I am preparing to teach or sermonize.  There are negatives too. My list begins with my Inbox, always containing (despite hours of attention daily) at least 2000 unanswered real messages that give me almost constant stress because you deserve a timely response. And then there are the time wasting temptations of cyber shopping especially on a day like Cyber Monday, and there are the guilt feelings that come with not responding to the fundraising appeals that come in constantly but reached a new personal record for #GivingTuesday. Most of the 100+ I got for that were from organizations that I have never chosen as my 35-40 ongoing charities, but they are all worthy causes. The Internet makes it just too easy to do solicitations – there are no production or mailing costs, just keystrokes.

I have written before in this column about Internet fundraising. It is not my favorite thing. I do not want those rants to leave a bad impression about asking people to give to good causes, so let me share a story. A wealthy American industrialist once came to visit the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Mayer Kagan of blessed memory, who was arguably the leader of Orthodox Jewry in the last half of the 19th century. The Chofetz Chaim proudly gave the man a personal tour of the yeshiva he founded in Radin and asked him if he too would like to be a partner in the building of Torah learning.  The man looked at the saintly rabbi. He observed the young yeshiva bochers studying Torah in the cold and sparsely furnished study hall. He witnessed the sincerity and genuineness of everything he saw. He thought hard. Finally he magnanimously replied, “Rebbe, I will fund the whole thing.” Only the Chofetz Chaim could merit such a miracle, but that is not the end of the story.  The Chofetz Chaim quickly took the man’s hand and blessed him with all of God’s blessings and then said, “My dear friend, you are indeed a very generous and righteous person, but as much as I would like to, I cannot accept your offer. You see, the holiness that you see and feel, it is the result of the contributions of hundreds of people. A loving heart, even a tear, accompanied each small donation. It is upon those tears that we have built our success. It is upon those souls that God’s presence rests.”

We all know the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule. It states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It applies in so many walks of life – 80% of sales come from 20% of the clients, 80% of the problems in a school or business come from 20% of the students or workers, and so forth. And it surely fits with fundraising. Major donors provide much of the money. But the Chofetz Chaim didn’t want to give in to the principle. He understood that in realms of the spirit, percentages are not as important as seeing every gift/ every giver as vital. We have been lucky at Beth El that our capital campaigns have involved more than half of our families and we try hard to facilitate and appreciate giving on many different levels.

So, I do encourage generous responses to worthy causes, despite the forms that the solicitations sometimes take, each according to his/her means. Mitzvah projects, where we give of our time and energy to help those who are not as blessed as we are, are also good. Consider both as December 31 approaches and after, and have a good Wednesday.    Bill Rudolph

P.S. This Friday night we honor our teachers, including milestone honorees Suzin Glickman, Sheldon Novek, Edith Sievers, Marilyn Fine and Meredith Schlaifer. The recognition service is at 6:30 and features Sam Glaser, named by Moment Magazine as one of the country’s top ten Jewish musicians. Shabbat dinner follows – that requires a reservation, contact Hattie today at hgoodman@bethelmc.org.