Monday, January 10, 2011

Brahcos For Sale

I’ve decided to get into the Bracha business. And I’m taking a cue from the Vaad HaRabbanim for Tzedakos in Israel. Anyone who wants a Bracha for any reason please contact me and I will install a machine in your neighborhood that will - for the appropriate fee - dispense a Bracha.

The alternatives will be as follows:

- Press Here for Salvation from all Bad Things.
- Press Here for Blessings for Good Events (Simchas).
- Press Here to Request a Blessing from the Torah Leaders of the Generation.
- Press Here to Give your Tithe.
- Press Here for a 40 day prayer session for you at the Kotel.

For your convenience -you will be able to use your credit card for this service. Simply choose your selection, press button, swipe your credit card, type in your name and your mother’s name, and your prayer request.

Remove your card and take your receipt. Order now and receive one of our special editions with Rav Elyashiv’s picture on it.

If this sounds a little preposterous to you… it shouldn’t. It already exists as noted on Mystical Paths where I took the above alternatives from. They are translations from the Hebrew options listed.

Of course I do not intend to do anything of the sort. But the fact that someone or some group actually went to the trouble to create such a contraption demonstrates a new low in fundraising. They do not only devalue the very Mitzvah of giving charity - they devalue the concept of getting Brachos; they devalue the needy petitioner, and they devalue their rabbinic leadership by implying their support for such a project.

As far as I can tell these machines do not even mention where the charity is going. For all we know it might be going to a cause not supported by a potential donor/petitioner. I suppose they see that as a plus. If they are trying to collect money for an unpopular cause, why advertise the cause? The Bracha vending machine is not selling the Tzedaka. They are selling the Brachos.

I am not the type of person to seek Brachos from Rebbes. I believe in going to the Source of all Brachos directly. I frown on the practice because too often the petitioner thinks the Bracha come directly from the person they see. Human beings are treated as though they are supernatural beings who have God-like power. Although I suppose that most people realize that is not the case - I think there are significant numbers who make this mistake. That is pure Apikursus.

Directly praying to God is the best way to go in my view. But I do not deny the value of others praying on your behalf. Nor do I dispute the fact that a more pious person will have more merit with God than a less pious person. So when the need is great I certainly understand the desire to get all the help one can from above. Going to a person one knows to be a pious individual and asking them to pray on their behalf is very understandable.

But when this concept turns into a business, I start becoming very skeptical. Which is why I question the real purpose of some Chasidic Rebbes who come to town. Although I assume that a Rebbe never directly asks for any money when he is seen and will dispense his Bracha in any case, he never turns money down either. I doubt there are too many people who do not donate something to him. The usual method is something called a Kvitel. The petitioner writes a note with a prayer request accompanied by a donation and gives it to the Rebbe (or his servant). The bigger the name – the more people that come to see him and the more money exchanges hands.

There is nothing illegal about this. But I wonder whether they would ever come to Chicago to dispense Brachos for free. I see such things as another version of Bracha vending machines. Legal or no - there is something just not right about it. But I digress.

The idea of exploiting the pain of others in order to increase income to one’s cause seems to have become an established practice in some Israeli circles. Kupat Ha’ir has been doing this for a long time. And now Tzedaka organizations like them have taken this idea a step further. They barely mention that the money goes for Tzedaka. It’s all about the Brachos.

I do not understand why the Israeli Rabbinic leadership allows this to continue. I know the need is great. One need only look at the way the religious political parties in Israel extort money for their causes from the government in exchange for joining coalitions.

But to stoop so low as to exploit the pain and suffering of fellow Jews in need for this purpose is beyond disgusting. Is it even possible that someone like Rav Elyashiv would allow his name to be attached to a Bracha vending machine? And which ‘leaders of the generation’ are going to be dipsensing these Brachos? It belittles the Tzedaka. It belittles the donor/petitioner. It belittles the very idea of Brachos. And makes a mockery of the whole thing!