October 19, 2016 | By Rabbi Jeffrey Schein
I remember the founding of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger so vividly. Leonard Fein and Rabbi Harold Schulweiss observed that 3% of the money spent annually on our smachot (celebrations) across North America would immediately create a fund of significant impact to fight world hunger. My association with the imperative of Kol Dichfin (“Let all who are hungry come and eat”) has been integrally related to MAZON ever since.
And that association changed my own Tzedaka.
I joined efforts in Philadelphia to have left-over food from synagogue celebrations directed to Philabundance, a local community kitchen.
Our children learned at a young age that the words of Kol Dichfin, read at the Passover seder, meant that the Afikomen could only be brought together when 18 silver coins designated for MAZON and feeding the hungry were also found.
The dozens of couples I’ve married have come to know that CRF (Customary Rabbinic Fee) was replaced by GTMSTS (Gift To MAZON and Sharing The Simcha).
The students I work with know that meeting a steep learning challenge will lead to a contribution to MAZON in honor of their learning.
And on a recent Wednesday, my observance of Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) was not complete until I answered Isaiah’s rhetorical question “What kind of fast does God desire?” by sending a contribution to MAZON.
When I pause some 30 years later, I ask myself whether this transformation of my own understanding of Tzedaka occurred in the world of gashmiut (material reality) or ruhaniut (spiritual reality). If we acknowledge transformation has occurred in the spiritual reality, it means that we haven’t made much of a dent in the stubborn issues of hunger and poverty in the material reality. So is it worth it? Do these acts of tzedakah make a difference?
The answer is yes – thanks to Einstein’s theory of relativity: that gravity matters and that small shifts actually change the composition of the universe. (Which interestingly enough, is a theory I learned about from an astrophysicist on the Stephen Colbert show.) Somehow, I believe that there is a moral string theory that links the worlds of gashmiut and ruhaniut as well. Small, even infinitesimal acts of hesed/kindness and tikun olam/repairing the world, matter in both material and spiritual ways. My commitment to MAZON over the years has shown me that each act of tzedaka does, indeed, make a difference.