Means To Be a Mensch
"...and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion." (25:1)
"Being a mensch" is one of those untranslatable Yiddish phrases which define what it means to be Jewish.
A few years ago an El Al flight to Londonwas carrying a young child in need of an urgent and critical operation. Apart from the child’s medical problem, there was another problem: money. The parents had barely enough to cover the cost of the flight to London, which involved the purchase of a whole row of seats to accommodate the stricken child and his medical support systems.
During the flight, a religious Jew who was traveling in first class came to the back of the plane to pray with a minyan. On his way back to his seat he went over to the father of the child and asked how the child was doing. In the course of the conversation the father mentioned he had no idea how he was going to be able to cover the cost of the operation. He was already way over his head in debt with the medical expenses that he had already incurred. He would need nothing short of a small miracle.
Without further ado the man took his leave, walked back to the first class cabin, pulled out his hat, and proceeded to tour the aisles of the first-class cabin collecting for the operation. In approximately ten minutes his hat contained checks to the value of some $100,000, sufficient for both the operation and the flights and all the medical expenses to date.
If Jews excel at anything, it’s tzedaka — charity.
"Charity," however, really doesn’t translate the word tzedaka. Tzedaka means "righteousness." Unfortunately as we live in a largely selfish and unrighteous world, the word “righteousness” usually finds itself being used with the reflexive pronoun "self" as in "self-righteous." However, "righteousness" is no more than "rightness," doing what is right. A Jew gives tzedaka, not because it’s charity, not because he is charitable, but because that’s what’s right. The definition of what is right is what G-d wants. Thus ultimately we give tzedaka not because our hearts reach out to the plight of others but because that’s what G-d wants from us.
"...and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion."
There are three kinds of tzedaka, and they are all hinted at in this verse.
The highest level is "let them take for Me a portion." Here the giving is "for Me" because that’s what G-d wants us to do. The second level is when we give tzedaka out of the kindness of our hearts because we cannot bear to see the suffering of the poor, "from every man whose heart motivates him." Noble as it is, this is not the highest level of giving.
And the third level is the person who would really prefer not to give at all, but is too embarrassed to say no. About him the verse says, "you shall take My portion."
No one will ever know from which of these groups were the passengers in that first-class El Al cabin, but one thing is clear: whatever a Jew’s motives, he knows what is means to be a mensch.
- Source: Nachalat Chamisha in Iturei Torah