From a young age, my parents were very clear about the importance of giving to the needy. As soon as we had any source of our own money, they taught my sisters and me the biblical principle of the tithe — giving ten percent of our money to charity (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26). So when we earned babysitting money, we automatically set aside a tenth of what we made for charitable giving.
However, my parents were not interested in merely teaching us to give our money to charity. Their ultimate goal was for us to become generous people — people who looked past our own desires and concerns and saw the needs and challenges of others. There was no better way to teach us this lesson than through their living example.
I remember one particular night, as I lay in bed, there was a knock on our front door. My father was sitting on the edge of my bed, singing me to sleep, while my mother was busy puttingmy sisters to bed. My father got up from our nighttime routine to answer the door, finding a complete stranger who he immediately realized was there to ask for charity. This was actually very common in Jewish communities where the needy felt they could ask for help from fellow Jews. Most people handed the beggars some money, wished them a good night, and got on with their busy schedules.
But not my parents.
My parents would always invite the needy man or woman inside our home, sit them at our dining room table, and serve them a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. One or both of my parents would sit with our guest and listen intently to their story, hearing their problems, sometimes discussing an idea from the Bible. Only afterward did they give whatever we could afford to the person and send them on their way.
My father always said, “It’s harder to ask for help than to give help. If a person asks, we must give, and we have to make them feel as comfortable as possible in an extremely uncomfortable situation.”
This night was no different, and the man was welcomed into our home as an honored guest. My parents put bedtime on hold so that they could tend to our guest, and only after he left did they resume where they had left off.
The fact that my parents interrupted our nightly routine for the sake of an unexpected stranger in need left an indelible impression on me. It taught me that helping a person in need, even a complete stranger, is of utmost importance, and requires our immediate attention.
Not later. Not the next day. Now.
This is an adaptation of Yael Eckstein’s upcoming book,Generation to Generation.
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization’s international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship’s daily radio program airing on 1,500 stations worldwide. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services professional. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of America’s largest religious not-for-profit organizations. www.IFCJ.org