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Section: Stories   Category: Story Corner
The Poor Feeding The Poor

During the Holocaust we find stories of amazing courage by previously ordinary people and hear sickening stories of the depths that people sink to. Desperate times call for desperate measures and people make tough decisions about how they will behave. Ask yourself, if you were there and struggling to save your own life how would act towards others?  Would you rise or fall to the occasion?

Yosef Friedenson wrote that one of the most pitiful sights in the Warsaw ghetto was the hordes of homeless children wandering around in rags, barefoot, with their stomachs swollen from hunger. They would wander the streets begging for "a pizele broit" (a crumb of bread). In those precarious times, no one had a crumb of bread to spare, and people hardened their hearts to the cries of these starved children. However, his father, Rabbi Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, the renowed askan, talmid chacham, ba'al chessed, and editor, could not ignore their cries. He would cut up little pieces of bread, wrap them up in paper, and throw them out the window. The news spread quickly that a "rich man" was giving away bread, and every night, a group of children would crowd around the window.

One evening as the children were starting to crowd around like they did every night, R' Friedenson started cutting up the last loaf of bread in the house. He handed out the whole loaf to the children. There was no bread left in the house for supper, or for breakfast the next day. There was no money in the house to buy more. When R' Friedenson realized what he had done, he did not show distress. Instead, he began humming an old Jewish song. "Oif Morgen vet G-tt sorgen- Let the Good G-d take care of tomorrow." He then sat down with his sons, Yosef, Shimshon, and Raphael, and gave them a shiur in Hilchos Tzeddakah. The main point of the shiur was that even the poor are obligated to give tzedakah.

The life of this spiritual giant, a man who literally gave away his last crumb of bread, was snuffed out by the Nazis in 1943. (Source: A Path Through the Ashes)

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Visitor Comments: 2

mb, Passaic, NJ, chul, 2011-08-14 09:57:50
This is one of a genre of stories I don't understand.

Does not his chiyuv to his children come before his chiyuv to those outside the window? Both are groups of children who are poor and starving. "Aniyei irekha kodemin -- the poor of your own city come first." Our obligation is first to those closest and most depending on us.

Here, R Friedenson gave out the food instinctively, and only afterward realized he gave out his last crumb.

But if it were planned, wouldn't this be halachically incorrect?

Naniach if it were just him and his wife, he could know what his wife could choose. But when it comes to minors, I don't see how we can make such allowances for someone's obligation to the poor in his own home.

And similarly the rav who gives away his family's food money to a needy kallah. Or to get the perfect esrog. Or any of dozens such stories.

Any thoughts?

-micha
Anonymous, 2011-08-14 10:15:43
To MB - As you pointed out it was only after the fact that he realized it. At that point he had two choices. 1. to be upset. 2. To accept the fate that befell him and teach his children a lesson in emunah.

He chose the latter and that was his greatness.

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