A Pauper at the Wall

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24 May 2011

A pauper……is a very poor person without means of support, a person who lives upon the charity of the community. The difference between a pauper and a beggar is this: The beggar is one who is making a request. The pauper, however, has such obvious need that people frequently give without even being asked.

In Jerusalem you often come across both, of course, but in Jerusalem you also find a different sort of poverty, a poverty of the soul. I have seen some of the richest and wealthiest Jews from around the globe, including some Israelis themselves, and they are walking around in Yerushalayim like beggars, like paupers because their spirits are so malnourished.

But let me tell you the oddest story:

Fifteen years ago, I was in Israel for the summer. The heat that year was brutal. There were spontaneous fires erupting in the forests. From Har Nof, you could see the smoke all the way from Beit Shemesh.

One afternoon I was supposed to meet up with a tour guide in the old city, to see the excavation that had opened up under the kotel below har ha-bayit. So I was waiting there, near the wall, in the heat of the day; the guide was late. There weren’t any chairs for sitting, and I had run out of water. I sat on the ground and tipped my head down, I had a cap propped it in my lap, my face was tucked into my hands. After a few moments, I heard a gaggle of Yemenite women passing by.

Then…pling…pling…pling…it felt like someone was tossing small stones in my direction. I thought, “Oh, perhaps it’s disrespectful for me to be sitting down on the ground like this; pebbles are being tossed my way so that I’ll get up. Some of those pebbles even landed in my lap…kerplunk…right into my cap.

I turned my cap over, to empty out the small stones…but they weren’t stones at all. They were shekels and agurot! I looked up only to realize that the group of Yemenite women (with toothless smiles and ragged skirts), were nodding in my direction with gentle compassion. Because of the way I was sitting, they had mistaken me for a person in need of kindness. A person whose need was so obvious, that a request wasn’t even necessary.

My immediate instinct was to get up and run after these women, return their coins and clear up the misunderstanding. But I kept them instead, just as a reminder. When you have options in life, you rarely need to rely on the kindness of strangers. When you are blessed with many things, it’s both easy and arrogant to take small tokens for granted. Life is so fragile and circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. You can become a beggar, you can become a pauper overnight. You can roam the streets of the world in great need and be totally ignored. But in the heart of Jerusalem, complete strangers have hearts grown large. If you sit yourself down on the ground by the kotel, someone is bound to come by and offer you kindness.

And you know what? You don’t even have to ask.

The OU Israel Center is proud to present it’s 7th annual Yom Yerushalayim Concert. All proceeds go to OU Israel’s Outreach Zula Center in support of Jerusalem’s teens at risk.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.