[The Nine Days make me terribly grim; I apologize in advance. Please forgive the darkness of these pre-Tisha b'Av musings.]
A rapid series of knocks at the door on a Friday afternoon – I get up from my computer where I am trying to finish preparing a source sheet for a Shabbos shiur, grab the checkbook and walk to the door. But not without a krechtz [sigh] at the untimely intrusion.
A car noses its way in front of me, trying to force its way into the lane, not even bothering with a turn signal – I pause to let him get in front of me. But not without a glare.
I give the tzedakah, I let the car in. I am not Sdom; I do what is right. But the feeling of generosity isn't there, and it scares me. It's only human to sigh and glare, but that doesn't mean it's right or healthy.
People hear about a public figure speaking on a charged topic, and immediately want the dirt on what was said. Who insulted whom, and how strongly? What was the reaction? What will be the political fallout? This is such an unwholesome approach to other people's lives.
I am reminded of a note by Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz in his Yaaros Dvash (drush 10) – the translation here is from one of our avreichim, Adam Frieberg, in this week's Toronto Torah:
This is not to say, Heaven forbid, that each Jew doesn’t love his friend's physical person. If harm were to befall him, or if the government would falsely charge a Jew, all of Israel would be quick to help him, with their lives and resources. We don’t even need to mention saving a life, he will surely redeem his brother. They would completely affix themselves, with their lives and with their resources, day and night, and would not quit. And if one would become sick, all would pray and visit, and any possible help they would not withhold, they would even race three kilometers through sand. If a woman would have difficulty giving birth and suffer pain, would not all of the wealthy, complacent women rise in the darkness of the night, and go to be with her to help! Can there be greater love, brotherhood and friendship than this?! Your portion is meritorious, holy nation, before the holy King!
My experience matches Rabbi Eibeschutz's glowing description of the way we go to great lengths on each other's behalf. However, I still sense a problem in myself, and I suspect I share this with others: A profound absence of generosity. Of love.
One can daven without concentrating;
One can learn Torah without being emotionally attached to the text;
One can observe Shabbos without feeling מעין עולם הבא (that one is thereby connected to the Next World);
And one can visit the sick, bury the dead and give tzedakah to the needy without an inner pull of "I love to help" generosity.
But to me, this last deficiency is potentially even more destructive than the previous three - and if the bliblcal and talmudic emphasis on social relationships is to be trusted, it makes us far less worthy of ultimate redemption and an end to these Tisha b'Av fasts.
I sense that acts of generosity without generous feeling are hard to sustain – they are more likely to fade as excuses present themselves.
I sense that acts of generosity without generous feeling are hard to transmit to our children – our children are more likely to absorb the sigh than the check.
And I sense that generous feeling is necessary for overall religious commitment. People who feel a need to guard their preserves are less likely to open their hearts, homes and wallets in the way that religion demands, whether in their relationship with Gd or in their relationship with others. Children who absorb that mentality are, in my opinion, less likely to find the "derech" attractive.
How, then, do we build generous feeling? Certainly, the point made by the Sefer haChinuch (216) that generous deeds will help inspire generosity of spirit, is a start. Perhaps this is also part of the talmudic statement (Berachos 6b) that the central reward for fasting comes from the tzedakah we give – when we take the food out of our mouths and give it away, that may help inculcate or reinforce generosity of spirit. But I would like more. How can I make myself a more generous person?