Q. Our club has a paid secretary who has done an excellent job managing the club over a period of decades. However, we find that with age she is less able to fulfill her duties and would like to replace her. But we are worried that losing the job will affect her emotionally and financially.
A. Certainly if you want to help this person financially, the best way to do so is through providing a job. Maimonides writes that the highest form of charity is not to give an outright gift but rather a loan or employment that makes a person feel self-sufficient. (1) But charity is not only to help out a person financially; the obligation also includes encouraging a person emotionally. The Talmud teaches:
Rabbi Yitzchak stated: Anyone who gives a coin to a poor person is blessed with six blessings, but one who consoles him with words is blessed with eleven blessings. (2)
This doesn’t mean that it is best to send away a poor person empty handed. It means that in addition to giving money it is necessary to give encouragement; Rabbi Yehuda Amital taught that it can refer to a person who is begging but in truth he doesn’t need money but rather consolation. But the main message from our point of view is that part of the general obligation to help the needy is to help them emotionally as well as financially.
The mishna further tells us that older servants should generally not be discharged even when they are no longer productive because they are the “praise” or “glory” of the household. (3)
At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the need of your club to have a functioning secretary to maintain its activities, and its budgetary needs. The ideal solution would be to find a way for your secretary to remain as active as she is able while others pick up the slack, and for her to continue to receive a salary or pension according to the members’ ability to pay. It may be the best you can is to give her a memorable retirement party and some honorary title, and for club members not to forget her but rather to visit or call from time to time.
The important thing is to be sensitive to the extent to which this job is important financially and emotionally to your loyal secretary, and is the “praise” of your club. These factors cannot and should not trump the legitimate needs of your group, which are after all what this person has devoted her career to, but they do need to be thoughtfully considered.
SOURCES: (1) Maimonides’ Code, Gifts to the Poor 10:7 (2) Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 9b (3) Mishna Ketubot 8:5, Babylonian Talmud