Monasteries of the Heart

In Good Times and Bad

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I read a Jewish story, a Hasidic tale, recently that I’d like to share with you.

A great Rabbi was asked by a student, “Why has no one ever heard about your grandfather since great rabbis, like yourself, usually come for a line of prominent rabbis?”

The Rabbi answered, “My grandfather was one of the 36 Hidden Saints whose goodness enables the world to survive. During the day, while working as a goldsmith, he studied the Torah; then he rose at midnight to meditate on the Kabbalah, and he always set aside a tenth of his earning for the poor.”

The Rabbi’s questioner was not impressed. He responded that many pious Jews did the same. The Rabbi smiled and said, “My grandfather tithed not only his profits, but also his losses. Once when he failed to refine a great amount of gold properly, he lost a great deal of money. He then calculated one-tenth of his loss and gave that amount to the poor. What made my grandfather one of the Hidden Saints is that he believed we should bless God for all that comes our way, the bad and the good. Even more, he believed that the poor should not suffer because of his mistakes.”

This is a story to take into our national presidential election with its focus on the economy and jobs. What was missing at both the Republican and Democrat national convention? The poor were missing, that’s what. Lots of talk about the middle class, almost nothing about our responsibility to care for those who are suffering the most from mistakes and greed that brought the U.S. economy to its knees. (Even in Erie, PA, we now have a tent city.)

The Hasidic tale reminds us of our obligation to care for the poor, not only in good times, but especially in bad times. I have every confidence that you, like the good Rabbi, remember the suffering in your personal alms. But now, we must demand the same spirit of justice and generosity at the national level. We must not let the poor suffer because the powerful made the mistake of squandering money and resources. Think of what the national budget would look like if ten percent of last year’s national losses were allocated to the poor. When Sister Simone Campbell, director of Network and organizer of Nuns on the Bus, spoke at the Democrat’s National Convention, she reminded us that we are our “sisters and brothers keepers.” And that holds true for all times.