Friday, July 20, 2012

Tomchei Shabbos - a Tradition of Kindness

A little Tomchei Shabbos volunteer
One of the most remarkable organizations in the Orthodox Jewish community is called Tomchei Shabbos.

The way Tomchei Shabbos works is basically as follows. If an Orthodox Jewish family is struggling to make ends meet, they may contact the local office of Tomchei Shabbos and request assistance. From that point, they will receive every Thursday night a box of groceries dropped on their doorstep. The box will probably contain basic necessities such as bread, fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish. This package can be of great help to families on a desperately low budget. The food is, to the best of my knowledge, paid for by donations and the work of boxing it and delivering it is done by local volunteers.

This is very similar to the food banks which are common place in many areas, however it goes a step further than any non-Jewish organization that I am aware of, in that the food is delivered directly to homes, saving people the embarrassment of appearing at a food bank location.

"who is like Thy people, like Israel, a nation one in the earth" (2 Samuel 7:23)

This is of course part of Jewish tradition stretching back thousands of years. Judaism invented the obligation to do kindness.

Leviticus 19:18 states “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 19:34 states “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 26:12 mentions the tithe of crops which must be given to the poor in the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical cycle while Leviticus 23:22 states that the remnants of the harvest must be left for the “poor and the stranger”.

Deut. 15:7 mentions the obligation to give loans to the poor according to their needs. This loan must be given without interest (Leviticus 25:36) and it must be forgiven in the Sabbatical year (Deut. 15:1).

We are obligated to celebrate our holidays together with the strangers, orphans and widows (Deut. 16:14).

How radically different this is than the thoughts of a recent icon of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian page 140 "Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish." [he was] and "Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." [he didn't].

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