Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



Ein Kemach Ein Torah


Without sustenance there is no learning.  If people are starving they cannot study the Torah or anything else.  We as Jews have learned that for centuries.  Our forefathers did everything to earn a living.  They became tailors, pedaled “Schmattes” (rags), and performed a host of other low prestige jobs just to earn a living, to keep their families fed. In those days it was not popular for women to do or find remunerative employment outside the home.  Women cooked, sewed their children's clothes and pinched Groschen (pennies or coins) to keep their families nourished.  Jews never relied upon handouts outside their group.  A few “schnorrers” existed but these men were very poor folk who collected to keep their kin and other needy “brothers” fed.  They never begged for alms from the outside world and kept their collecting within their own religious fellow Jews.  The givers were people who adhered to their beliefs of Zedakah and were strong in their convictions that charity was one of the important Mitzwot in the six hundred thirteen Karyagim Mitzwot.

Today it still holds true that he who has no income, no job, no money is “persona non grata”.  He is a person overlooked and unappreciated. He is a nonperson, an individual who has few rights, no power and no voice.  Others do not want to deal with him. They want to avoid him frequently for fear that he may ask for something or make a request that the approached one does not want to meet.

Jews, who have been persecuted, denounced and been caught up in “Balbulim” (false accusations), make every effort to achieve, to not be counted as one of the “schnorrers”.  We have the need to feel worthy, to make something of our lives, to be giving human beings who are very much worthy of all that we have accomplished, have made of ourselves, have established and have through hard labor managed to create and to conquer.  That is why we have so many academicians, lawyers, physicians and others with high prestige positions.  These accomplishments have not been handed to us; they have been earned by the proverbial sweat of our brows. 

Unfortunately there are many in our midst who frown upon those who are not “well off” and whose efforts have not come to fruition.  These attitudes are extremely painful and do not fit into our Jewish tenets of the “lef tov”, the good heart, the people who do not pass judgment on other people's misfortunes or ill luck.  A truly good Jewish person attempts to reach out, befriend the unfortunate or poor one and make him feel equal and valued.  The mistreatment of brother to brother or sister to sister happens too often in our synagogues.  Mistreatment, lack of understanding, embarrassing the poor one and other gossip, and vicious deeds, like loshon horah (evil tongue), etc., are rampant.  A Temple is a place where people should be able to relax, to feel welcome, to be in an extended “family” where the week's hardships are left behind and the proverbial Sabbath Queen takes away all pain, all discomfort.  It should be a place where we are all equal and our brethren like and care about us.  It is not a place where people are minimized and made to feel unwanted or unwelcome.

Let us all strive to make the synagogue a place of joy, of friendship, a place of belonging and of acceptance!!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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