Pursuing Communal Needs “Be’Emunah”
In the third paragraph of a prayer that is recited on Shabbat immediately after the Haftorah is completed, but before the Torah is returned to the Ark, we beseech God that 1) He Bless and duly Reward not only those who are attending synagogue services that morning, but, to a greater degree, 2) the various sponsors who devote their time and/or resources to make such services possible:
1) He Who Blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He Bless this entire holy congregation, along with all the holy congregations, them, their wives, sons and daughters and all that is theirs.
2) And those who a) dedicate synagogues for prayers, and those who b) enter them to pray, and those c) who give lamps for illumination, and d) wine for Kiddush and Havdalah, e) bread for guests, and f) charity for the poor, and g) all who are involved “Be’Emunah” (faithfully; with pure spiritual devotion) in the needs of the community, may the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Pay their reward and Remove them from them every affliction, Heal their entire body, and Forgive their every iniquity, and Send blessing and success to all their handiwork, along with all Israel, their brethren. And let us say: Amen.
It is altogether understandable to wish to “incentivize” not only people who freely opt to attend services when they could just as well be doing something else with their time, but also all those who sacrificially donate to the enterprise of formal, communal Jewish prayer in order to make possible programs and spritiual inspiration to the members of the Jewish community. Were we to expand on each of the categories listed in the prayer, we could posit: a) “Dedicating synagogues for prayers” entails either donating or setting aside prayer spaces without which it would be impossible to conduct services; b) “entering a synagogue to pray” assures there be a quorum for those who wish to pray, have to recite Kaddish for a departed relative, and/or wish to celebrate a rite of passage; c) “providing illumination” refers to individuals who make sure that the utilities of the synagogue are taken care of; d) contributing “wine for Kiddush and Havdalah” praises the enablers for the conducting of weekly rituals with requisite materials and substances, even if they prove costly; e) “bread for guests” recalls the time when synagogues served as hostels, offering shelter and board for destitute travelers passing through the city or town; and f) “charity for the poor” reminds everyone of the communal responsibilities to maintain a “soup kitchen” and “relief fund” for indigent permanent residents.
Yet, the most challenging of the inventory of virtuous behaviors is g): “all who are involved ‘Be’Emunah’ in the needs of the community.” While this statement could refer to a category of activities previously omitted with respect to meeting various communal needs, it also serves as a qualifier for the first six listings, implicitly raising the question of why certain individuals have decided to give so willingly of their resources for the public weal. While many different agendas, e.g., preserving the memory of a relative who has passed away, seeking personal influence, satisfying the desire for public acknowledgement, engaging in displays of wealth, atoning for past transgressions, etc., might underlie why a particular individual might wish to step forward and personally underwrite or contribute to these types of causes, the adverb “Be’Emunah” implies that ulterior motives are counter-intuitive for such enterprises, at least on the most idealistic of levels.
However, it is possible that setting such a high attitudinal standard for community service would discourage anyone of significant means from participating, despite the promises of desirable spiritual rewards, as in the prayer cited above. In a Hebrew internet essay, entitled “The Paradox of Those Who Engage in Communal Needs ‘Be’Emunah’” (https://he.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3220337), Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz notes that in addition to individuals being often attracted to serve in such roles for clearly the wrong reasons, righteous people who are most likely to carry out these responsibilities honestly and with pure intent, are either generally discouraged by the prospects of being subject to all sorts of abuse and accusations by dissatisfied recipients of communal largesse
(see for e.g., Talmud Yerushlami, Pe’ah 9:6
They wished to appoint R. Akiva the head of the charity distributers. He said to them: I wish to consult with my wife. They followed him and heard him say to his wife: Do you agree that I should be the head of the charity distributors even if I will be cursed and even if they will disparage me?)
or simply due to the onerous nature of the tasks when carried out sincerely and properly
(see for e.g., Horiyot 10a-b
When Rabban Gamliel ascended to dry land, he sent a messenger to them [Rabbi Elazar Chisma and Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Gudgeda] to tell them to come so that he could appoint them [to communal positions] and they did not come. He again sent a messenger to them and they came. Rabban Gamliel said to them: Do you imagine that I am granting you authority, and since you did not want to accept the honor you did not come when I sent for you? I am granting you servitude, as it is stated: (I Kings 12:7) “And they spoke to him saying: If you will be a servant to this people today”…)
And then there is always the possibility, particularly when monetary considerations are involved, that even one who starts out with the right intentions, might become corrupted down the road
(e.g., Mishna Shekalim 5:2
There should never be fewer than three Gizborim [individuals tasked with gathering Temple funds for redemption of various objects] and fewer than seven Amarkelin [those who supervise the Gizborim and are responsible to make sure that all of their dealings are honest.] And there is never assigned responsibility for communal moneys to less than two individuals…)
The “paradox” to which R. Steinsaltz refers to in his article, is the extreme rarity of someone who actually is willing to first accept upon himself, and then carefully fulfill communal responsibilities “Be’Emanah.”
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has stated that Judaism is a culture of “aspiration,” and while it is unfortunately a truism of human nature that so much ostensible altruism will frequently be informed by the pursuit of personal needs and desires, the prayer on Shabbat morning which we have been parsing, proclaims that we should strive to never lose sight of the Jewish values of wholeheartedness and sacrificial devotion with respect to communal leadership and responsibility.
Rabbi Jack Bieler was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1974. He has been an administrator and faculty member of Orthodox Jewish day schools for over thirty years. He is a Jerusalem Fellow and has published and lectured widely on the philosophy of Modern Orthodox Jewish education. He has served as Rabbi of KMS since 1993 until his retirement in 2015. He blogs daily at https://firstname.lastname@example.org and his website can be accessed at https://rayanotyaakov.wordpress.com.
Rabbi Bieler has been a Panelist for Jewish Values Online for several years, responding to questions. You can find his answers by visiting Jewish Values Online, selecting the ‘View all panelists’ link, and clicking his name. A link will appear with his bio to show all answers he has submitted. Rabbi Bieler wrote one of the Blog entries selected as the three best for the each of the first three Quarters of 5779. You can see these entries on the front page of the Jewish Values Online Website.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
What specifically does Judaism say about money? I often tell people that Christians believe that there is nobility in poverty (the meek will inherit the earth) but Jews have no such concept and encourage people to have means to take care of their families. This is me spewing out gibberish based on no actual facts. Is this in fact true and if so, what does Jewish law/wisdom say about money?
See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 800 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right-hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.