For about a year or so I used to go with the kids to a local bakery every Friday to buy challah and pastries for Shabbat. On the way out I always gave them a few singles to give to the two beggars who habitually sat right outside the door. We no longer buy challah from a bakery, but sometimes I’ll drive by the bakery, double park, and let the kids jump out to give the beggars the singles.
I personally don’t regularly give to every (or even most) street beggars. I’m indifferent, cynical, untrusting, resentful, whatever. But I do want to impart to my children the importance of helping out those less fortunate than ourselves. What easier and more direct way is there to act out this principle than handing some money to a random street beggar? (Dropping coins into a pushka isn’t quite the same thing.) But I’m conflicted, because I don’t want my kids to become easy prey for those who take advantage of the charitable. I don’t have a resolution for my dilemma, but in the meantime, while they are still young, innocent and pure, I figure I’ll encourage them to express their charitable sides; when they get older I’ll tell them how the world really works (if they haven’t already figured it out).
I no longer have to “encourage” David to be charitable. At the age of ten he has grown to become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. He wants to give to every beggar on the street, every musician in the subway stations, etc. At a certain point I started to hesitate before giving him money, but relented after he’d plea, “but Abba, it’s a mitzvah.”
Now he is such a gvir that he doesn’t even ask me for money anymore. Last week we were waiting for the train and he asked—no, he said that he was going to give the violinist a dollar. I was about to say, “I don’t know,” but before the words could leave my mouth he had whipped a dollar out of his pocket and was walking over to the violinist. I smiled.
When we got off the subway we went into the supermarket to buy some things. While I was waiting on line to pay, I remembered that I had forgotten to put a challah in to the cart. I sent him to get it. He ran outside to get the challah—it was easier than walking back through the store—and returned with it a minute later. I finished paying and we left the store together to look for Kineret, who was shopping in another store. As we walked out he looked toward a wheelchair-bound beggar and the beggar smiled at him. David told me that when he ran out to get the challah, he gave the man a five-dollar bill.
The first thought in my mind was to kill him. The thought only lasted a second and I reminded myself that at this age it’s ok to be uninhibitedly charitable. But it was too late. In the course of that single second David noticed the disappointment/anger on my face. He grew upset himself and protested. “But it’s tzedaka. What would I do with it anyway? Buy more nosh? It was better that I give the money to him.” I smiled and told him that of course he is right.
Some parents dread the “sex talk.” I dread that too, but more so I dread the day I will have to sit him down and tell that he should be more careful with to whom he gives his money.