Dec 9, 2009

Just Say Yes

Lately, in lectures and articles, it has become prevalent for frum speakers and writers to reassure their audience that saying "no" to a chesed can also be a sign of strength.  After all, most of grew up hearing about those who went out of their way to do the mitzvos of hachnosas orchim and other chasadim, so when we don't feel up to doing a favor we feel guilty.  The new age frum speaker and writer is here to remedy that.  Just say no.  After all, they maintain, if you say yes when you want to say no, you will do the chesed with resentment.

Well, a lone voice is countering what they consider an anti-Torah view.  This person maintains that we need to be less selfish, less self-absorbed.  We need to view those calls for assistance as opportunities, not as a burden.  Just say no because otherwise we'll do the chesed resentfully?! How about saying yes and working on correcting our middos? How about feeling sorry if we really cannot help out? If you cannot have someone for a meal, rather than just saying no, how about helping them find another host?

What would have happened if Rivka Imeinu would have said no when Eliezer asked her for water.  What if she figured: He's an able-bodied man.  I'm a little girl.  He has other men with him.  They can manage on their own.  What am I, their servant? They're not going to take advantage of me!

There seems to be a disconnect between what we learn in Torah and the stories of old and today's new perspective.


  1. Some types of chessed cannot be delegated to someone who does not have the ability such as taharas ha meis. Someone on a chevra kadisha may have to say "no" to something else because he or she must be available to perform taharas.
    Then there is the immediacy in the chessed of helping someone find a shidduch. They need info given or passed on to someone or a name of a potential shidduch or someone to be in the middle. It can't wait until next month.
    Sometimes there are things that are impossible for someone to do. I personally don't have a problem performing taharas ha'meis but I cringe at raising money. Some things I feel comfortable raising money for and some I don't and can't. Last year I was asked to cold call people from the phone book who were not frum to sell them yeshiva raffles and every time that I sat down to call, my heart started to race and my chest started to hurt. I told the yeshiva that unless I was in their office, using their phone with their caller ID, that I could not do it.
    Then there are opportunities to cook. We have unfortunately sick people, people sitting shiva and BH new mothers. It can be very expensive and time consuming to make large meals for large crowds and in our community it has become common to rotate those opportunities.
    Then there is mivtzoim (outreach). I don't mind doing it when it is in our local JCC and nearly always agree to do it but I do not like going to a JCC 30 to 45 minutes away because it takes too much time and gas. To some that is no big deal but to me it takes up my entire day and there is a limit to what someone can spend on gas.
    Then there are the guests. My husband works long hard hours and is usually too exhausted to host the type of guests that need lots of attention. Some things just can't be put on someone else. If I host ladies for a shiur, it does not involve my husband but if I let someone stay here that puts demands on him, that is not fair to him. Some guests prevent parents from giving attention to their children when the children need the parents and guests like that should be few and far between. It is a matter of how often and for how long.
    I volunteer for a special needs woman but I limit it to how many hours that I can give and still be patient and not neglect other duties.
    I have learned also that there are those things that must be a blanket "no". I found long ago that if I agreed to take bochrim to airports or do other driving favors, there was no end to the expectations and it soon interfered with more important things. There are frum people who make their living by driving others. Let them make a few dollars.

  2. You make some good points.

    The person I was quoting was objecting specifically to "not being in the mood" as a reason to say no. And also the attitude of viewing being asked as a "pain in the neck" as opposed to an opportunity.

  3. B'h
    I very much agree with the view of getting into the general habit of saying yes and trying to fit it into ones schedule if one can.
    It doesn't create shamttes but slefless individuals imho.

  4. I know some women who say yes to almost everything and then dump it or let us say "delegate" it or at least try to delegate it to someone else. I guess that if the job gets done then there was no harm in their agreeing to something that they could not do but eventually people start to avoid them. Sometimes the task that they are asking is more than the other person can handle.
    I remember something from years ago. My youngest child had numerous health issues from his extremely premature birth and as a baby, he needed supplemental oxygen from a large tank in his bedroom. He used this oxygen around the clock and if we went out with him, we hooked him up to a portable tank. We had 5 other little children who needed our care and attention. Early one Sunday morning, the phone rang and there was no caller ID in those days and I answered it. On the other end was an elderly woman who said that she met me at a party and was impressed with me and wanted me to come and get her so that she could spend the day at my house. I told her that I had a sick child on oxygen and that because of that, I had not been to the party and was not the lady that she was looking for. Someone had given her my number by mistake. I told her that she could come but that I would have to hook up the baby to the portable tank to go get her and that most of my day would be spent trying to care for him. She declined the invitation. I called the person who gave her my number and she confessed to giving it even though her husband told her not to.
    That was not a time in my life that I could easily devote to someone who needed lots of attention.
    Then there was the time when someone called me and asked if they could drop off 7 children at supper time because she needed to go to a store that was open all night. She obviously needed a break unless the story about the store was a ruse and she really needed to go somewhere but could not say where. My husband was due to come home from work and was tired and would not be too happy to have 7 extra children there. I offered that if she needed something from a store and it was an emergency that I could run to a closer store and get it but I could not have 7 extra children making noise when my husband came home.
    These are just 2 examples. I knew of a selfless couple who always had a houseful of very mentally unstable guests; the kind who halucinated. That was very kind of them but their own children would not come home. Now we as a society need to address the needs of the mentally ill and make sure that they have a safe place to go and food to eat but no one is obligated to care for them at the expense of their children.
    There are those things we can all take time to do; say tehillim for someone, vist a sick person, make one dish for someone in need, have Shabbos guests, redd a shidduch, open our home for a shiur, etc. Then there are things that if we say "yes" to are not on someone elses account such as babysitting for others when our husbands need rest or neglecting our children to care for someone else.
    I know of another person who has mentally unstable guests on a regular basis but does it without straining his family. He has them for meals only and not for sleeping and he focuses the meal on the Torah discussion rather than allowing the person to have a free therapy session at the expense of his kids. If they want his advice, he will give it later but not when his children need to recite their parsha sheets.

  5. oops, I made a mistake.
    " Then there are things that if we say "yes" to are not on someone elses account" should have said "there are things that if we say "yes" to are on someone elses account.