Dear Rabbi Zahavy,
My friend is sick and in the hospital. I haven’t been able to visit him, but I did text him a get-well message. My wife told me that is not enough. She says I have to visit my friend in person to fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick.
Who is right?
Mobile Media Mitzvah Man
Both of you are right — but your wife is righter.
Text messages and email are mechanical ways — in your view — to satisfy the minimum fulfillment of the mitzvah of bikur cholim — visiting the sick. You expressed your concern to your friend and you feel that may lift his spirits.
But your wife is right too. Social media and texts are impersonal one-way expressions of support.
You do not get to feel the vibe of your friend’s condition through the electronic media. It’s not a hands-on inquiry into your friend’s condition or well-being. The Hebrew word for visit, bikur, also implies direct examination and investigation.
I will admit that if you were to use Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime videos, that would give a greater sense of immediacy to your e-connection. I still conclude, however, that it would fall short of a real sense of visitation.
In short, your e-wishes lack the quality that most chaplains and clergy would advocate for in visitations of the sick. A phone call is better. An in-person visit would be the best quality fulfillment of the mitzvah, a better expression of concern and compassion for your friend who is ill.
As our community ages, maintaining the quality of social support, person-to-person, is an urgent issue for us and our neighbors. Keep that in mind. Be more meaningful, not just mechanical, in your mitzvahs.
Dear Rabbi Zahavy,
I was invited to a “testimonial dinner” sponsored by a Jewish organization in honor of an acquaintance of mine. I don’t have any connection to the group. In fact, I do not believe that enterprise does any good works in our community. It seems to me they are using my friend to raise money for a budget to support the director’s huge salary and expense accounts. May I refuse to participate?
Doubting the Dinner,
Eschewing the Event
Yep, this is the artificial event season. You are fortunate if you are being hit up for only one such affair. Every Jewish school, shul, and agency has an awkward fund-raiser on the schedule. And some sincere people have been asked to be honorees at such occasions and invite their friends and relatives to come and celebrate their day in the spotlight — at a hefty cost.
The sincere side of me understands that worthy enterprises do need to raise money to meet their budgets. And authentic leaders in the circles of these operations lend their good names and energies to helping meet the annual costs of education, religion, and social services.
But the cynical side of me has big misgivings about some of these “honors.” I recall a few years ago when I met the wealthy businessperson who was to be honored at a major New York synagogue dinner. “Pleased to meet you Mr. Mafufsky,” I said to him. “I see you are going to be the shul’s ‘Man of the Year.’”
He cringed and replied, “Hah. Do you know how much that ‘kavod’ is costing me and my family and friends?”
Most of us know that the unarticulated social contracts of our communities sanction the artificial events that abound around us. Fundraising events are a big fact of organizational life.
So generally, I say that we should wink or wince at the awards, the distinctions, and the tributes, and we ought to attend the dinners, write the checks, and help support our communities.
But you say that you have a hesitation about a specific outfit. Okay, that is a red flag for me. Among the droves of worthy organizations, there are those that are more creditable and those that are less worthwhile. And yes, there are some that are scandals-in-waiting, shady in reputation, and their phony events are best avoided.
It is your duty to act on your substantive assessments and allocate your time and support and money to the best, most sincere, most effective associations and institutions. And yes, you may politely (or even rudely) demur from supporting the artificial events of the rest, in accord with your most prudent judgment.
Dear Rabbi Zahavy,
I have been invited to a Jewish cemetery for the interment of the ashes of a Jewish friend of mine who was cremated.
I feel awkward, but I do not want to attend mainly because I know that Jewish tradition commonly requires that a corpse be buried in the ground, and it proscribes cremation.
Is it proper for me to attend under these circumstances?
Asking about Ashes
The ancient Jewish customs and rites of burial are not things that we want to tinker with, given the choice. And for some Jews, after the Holocaust, the idea of cremation is emotionally jarring.
I learned only recently that Jewish cemeteries do accept the ashes of Jewish decedents for burial.
So, if a Jewish person has died, and the family carried out his wishes for cremation, we should not disallow our traditional psalms and prayers and Kaddish for that Jewish soul. If you can be at ease enough with the circumstances you describe, yes, you ought to attend. If you have close ties, you should be present, as a matter of reverence for the departed.
Dear Rabbi Zahavy,
I’m in my late sixties and feel strongly that it is time for me to retire. But when I look at my retirement accounts, I see that I haven’t met the retirement dollar goals that I set with my financial planner 25 years ago. I’m worried that I don’t have enough. What should I do?
Raring to Retire
The retirement clock ticks louder for more and more members of our communities with every passing month. But the decision on when to retire is highly subjective and personal.
We Jews generally have a positive view on retirement. Obsession with the constant work ethic usually is associated with Protestant values, not Jewish ones.
Not long ago, a very astute counselor told me, “When you are ready to retire, you retire on what you have.” “Really?” I asked? “Yes, definitely,” he assured me.
When you weigh the value of advice from a financial planner, always keep in mind that the Talmud repudiates as potentially biased the testimony in court or in business deals of an interested party who stands to gain from his declarations.
I remember the day, years ago, when I was reading an issue of Money magazine, and I had an epiphany. Crudely put, I realized that the mutual fund managers want you to accumulate as much as you can in your retirement accounts and give it to them to administer — and they will take their hefty fees from those big piles of dough. Oh boy. That’s a classic case of a prejudiced interested party.
Accordingly, it may be that your adviser gave you brilliant guidance years ago. Or consider that it may be that he gave you the highly rehearsed recommendation that first benefits his industry, and that puts your life-needs second.
Have faith that you have made adequate preparations, and you are making a rational and sane decision. And if you feel in your gut that it is time to retire, do so, and may God bless you with good health and longevity.
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The Dear Rabbi Zahavy column offers mindful advice based on talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally open and meaningful to all the varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Please mail your questions to the Jewish Standard or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org