Balak 5774 – Giving Secretly

Now go and curse it for me (Bamidbar 22:11)

Balak asks Bilaam to curse the Jews, but used a mild form of the word curse. Bilaam, though, used a stronger expression for cursing the Jews because he had much hatred for them. The commentators point out the reason why Bilaam had so much hatred for the Jews; it is because he “owed” them. The Midrash tells us that Bilaam came from Lavan and Lavan merited having male offspring only because of Yaakov Avinu’s blessing. Therefore, the only reason Bilaam was alive was because of Yaakov’s blessing. People do not like feeling like they “owe” someone else. Bilaam was an ingrate and took his hatred to such an extreme that he wanted all of the Jews to disappear from this world. Most people do not take it this far (Baruch Hashem!), but still many people feel uncomfortable when someone else does them a favor and they feel like they owe them back.

When I lived in Boston, there was one month which I was having difficulties paying my bills. I went to my Rav and found out that the shul had an interest-free loan society. I applied for the loan of a few hundred dollars and was given the loan without any difficulties. Baruch Hashem, I was able to pay my bills and got back on schedule of making my payments on time. A strange thing, though, happened a week after I received the loan. I received a letter in the mail from the local kosher market. The kosher market had a program where people could make a payment to an account and then give a code each time they went to the cashier. When they checked out of the store with their groceries, they did not need to worry about having cash in their wallet at that time. The cashier would ring up the bill against the person’s account and would give the customer a receipt with the balance that remains.

Well, the letter I received stated that someone anonymously created an account for me at the kosher market for a few hundred dollars. I did not know who the person was and if I’m not mistaken the person did not know who I was. Anyway, I greatly appreciated this nice gift. I did not feel like I needed to accept charity (I only fell behind on my bills for one month), but in a non-embarrassing way, I was helped out. Also, I did not feel like I “owed” an individual because I did not know who gave me the donation. If someone gave me charity directly, every time I saw him, I would feel embarrassed and feel like I needed to pay him back (even though the person gave to me with a complete heart and did not want repayment). But here, I did not feel that because the gift was given secretly and anonymously. (And also, no one in the community knew that I received charity because there were many people who set up accounts at the kosher market who did not receive charity.)

Sometimes, people do not like it when others do favors for them because then they might feel they need to pay them back. Of course, this is not an excuse for us not to give tzedakah. We still have a mitzvah of tzedakah and must give to others. But if we can give it in a secret way that does not make the other person feel like they “owe” us, then that is a beautiful act.

Good Shabbos!
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