Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement


LOOSENING THE STOPPER

Jewish (Hasidic-Poland)

A pair of rabbis set out to raise some funds for a worthy cause. They approach a wealthy man whose generosity has become blocked, and one of the rabbis knew how to help him unstop it. How is receiving just as important as giving, in cultivating generosity in others and ourselves?
Key Words: Europe; Poland; Hasidic; Judaism; generosity; appreciation; acceptance
“Defending His Property.” Lipman, Doug. © 2002.
Used with the permission of Doug Lipman. www.hasidicstories.com

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev's grandchild married the grandchild of the famous rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. “Now that we are related by this marriage,” said Rabbi Schneur Zalman, “let us join in performing a good deed. An innocent Jew is being held by the local authorities. Let us take up a collection, to give the officials the sum they demand for his release.”

“Excellent idea,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzhak. “But I ask one condition. Let us accept whatever donation is offered to us, no matter how small.”


The two men went door to door. Two such distinguished rabbis seldom visited these townspeople together, so most gave generously. At last, the two rabbis came to the home of a wealthy man. He greeted them politely, then reached in his pocket, drawing out a mere half-penny. To Rabbi Schneur Zalman's horror, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak thanked the man warmly, blessed him, and turned to leave.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman had followed his companion outside, he could contain himself no longer. “Why should we accept that insultingly small amount from one who has so much!”

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak said, as they walked on, “I asked you to accept whatever we were given. Please be patient.”

Some time later, the rich man strode up behind them. “I am sorry,” he said. “Please accept more from me.” He gave them a silver coin, then turned and left. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak called after him, “You are a good and generous man!”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman fumed at Rabbi Levi Yitzhak. “He could afford a hundred times as much! Why must we bless this stinginess?”

“Please bear with me, honored relative.” They continued walking.

A short while later, the rich man caught up to them again. Out of breath, he said, “Will you forgive me for how little I gave you?” He held out a sack bulging with a hundred silver coins.

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak took the rich man's hand. “Yes, with all my heart,” he said. The rich man gave the coins and left, obviously relieved.

Now Levi Yitzhak turned to Rabbi Schneur Zalman. “May I tell you the story of that wealthy man?

“He has always given generously to those in need. But a week ago, a beggar approached him while he was meeting with a group of businessmen. Reluctant to interrupt the others to get his purse, the wealthy man reached into his pocket and gave the beggar the only coin he found there, a half-penny.

“The beggar was furious. This rich man was famous for giving silver coins. Why had he slighted him? The beggar threw the coin at the rich man, striking him in the face. In his pain, the wealthy man vowed to stop being so generous. From now on, he would give everyone a half-penny—no more!

“It is said that each step downward leads to another, honored relative. He was within his rights to offer the beggar only what he had. But he erred when he treated others the same way. Since that day, every one who approached him has angrily refused his paltry half-penny gifts. He found himself unable to offer more.

“It is also said that each step upward leads to another. Once we accepted his half-penny, we loosened the stopper on his generosity. Each gift he gave made the next one possible. Now, our willingness to receive has restored him to his goodness.”