Dear Rabbi,

Recently, at our shul, a homeless man named Joe,1 who has been attending every week, was asked by the rabbi not to enter the building anymore. The reason was that Joe was storing things at the shul without permission, and he had washed up for Shabbat in the bathroom in order to change his shirt and made a mess. The rabbi has told me that people do not want to sit next to him, and some feel afraid. He said that people have complained that Joe sometimes has an odor. It is interesting that they are mad at him for having an odor, and also for washing in the bathroom.

So I’m scheduled to speak on Joe’s behalf. I know what the Torah says, and what Isaiah says, about treating the homeless in our midst. But I need to provide a solution as well. So, I would appreciate whatever advice you could give me on how to address the board of our shul.

Sincerely yours,
Joe’s Rep


Dear Rep,

The solution is quite simple: Provide Joe a place, either in the shul or elsewhere, to store his things. Find other ways that he can be helped without embarrassment.

When parents bring their children to shul, and the children ask what the Torah is talking about, what does the prophet mean, they can introduce their children to Joe. They can show how the shul helps him out, without embarrassing him, as a peer and a friend—because we are Jews, and this is what we were chosen to teach the world.

And when they ask, “Where is the most special place in our shul?” you can tell them: it is not the seat where the rabbi sits; it is not the bimah where the Torah is read; it is not even the aron that stores the Torah—even though the Torah is very holy and guides us in all our ways. The most special place in our shul is the little cubby we gave to Joe to store his things.

King David said in his Psalms, “Let the world sit before G‑d.” The Midrash tells that he was complaining to G‑d. “Why did You create inequality in the world?” he said. “Why did You make some poor and some rich, some wise and some dull, some joyful and some sad? Make a world in which all are equal!”

And G‑d replied with the second half of the verse: “Who, then, will guard kindness and truth?”

Meaning: “If everyone had all that they need, then how would kindness fit into My world? Rather, I made an unbalanced world, so that the rich would have the opportunity to give to the poor, the wise could teach the dull, the joyful could cheer those who are sad. And this way, all could merit to enter the eternal life of truth—those who gave because they gave, and those who received because they suffered only in order that others should be able to give.”

“When you meditate on this,” the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said, “that a fellow human being had to suffer only so that your soul should have the opportunity to help him out, then you give and give again, and the giving crushes your heart and humbles you even more.”