Many Long Islanders are involved in charity efforts — volunteering at youth centers or nursing homes; helping to feed the hungry and homeless; or sending material aid and prayers to victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. This week’s clergy discuss why the obligation to do good works is a central tenet of their faiths.
Rabbi Ben Herman
Jericho Jewish Center
One of the central statements repeated time and again in the Torah is to protect “the stranger, the orphan and the widow.” We are commanded to watch out for those on the margins in order to ensure that they do not get swept under the rug. While some say we should do so because it is simply the right thing to do, we get more back from helping others than the effort we put forth to do so. When we make over 1,800 sandwiches at our congregation’s Sandwich Sunday, the greatest highlight is driving to shelters such as The INN and seeing the smiles on people’s faces when we give them the sandwiches. Our bar/bat mitzvah students do a mitzvah project to show that they’ve come of age by helping others in their community. Many students have returned to me after their bar/bat mitzvah, proclaiming how meaningful their mitzvah project was, and how it made them realize that what they do makes a difference. What they recognize is that giving back empowers them, especially when they see their efforts bear fruit in the local community. I’ve come to understand that people connect with God and with Judaism differently, and that the commandments of tzedakah (righteousness) and hesed (acts of loving kindness) are powerful ways to show someone who does not connect through traditional prayer services that Judaism does make a difference in their lives in the here-and-now.
Chaplain, Islamic Society Interfaith Center
Stony Brook University
In Islam, charity is a critical component of worship; and thriving as a Muslim depends on your willingness as an individual to give freely to others without the expectation of material return or praise. This Islamic principle instead relies solely on altruism. This overarching concept, which is one of the primary engines of Islam, is a rich source of investigation and cannot be simplified. But an abridged version of understanding the role of charity in driving faith forward can be brought to light using 90:1, Surah Al-Balad in the Quran. In describing a passageway over an obstacle that a believer must overcome in order to be fully developed as a believer, this excerpt from the Quran asks, “And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass?/It is the freeing of a slave/Or feeding on a day of severe hunger/An orphan of near relationship/Or a needy person in misery . . . ” Here, the Quran clearly identifies specific acts of charity that Muslims should participate in. These examples underscore the importance of aiding those who may be less fortunate. These acts then become part of a spiritual journey that brings you closer to God.
The Rev. Thomas Boyd
Church of the Nazarene
“What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking daily food, and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” That passage is found in James 2:14-17. There are at least 20 other similar passages found in both the Old and New Testament. With that in mind, I would submit that unless you do help those in need, your faith journey is anemic. Jesus told us in Matthew 25 that when you give food or water or otherwise care for the needs of others, you are doing it to, and for, Jesus. There is a psychological principle that states when you are depressed and feeling down, get out and begin to help others. You will find you feel better about yourself. It is very healing to serve others. Sometimes we might feel overwhelmed with the needs of people all around the world, and those needs are indeed great. But, don’t let that stop you from helping one person. As Americans, we should be proud of how we have helped those around the world, but let’s not feel that replaces our personal responsibility to help those around the corner also. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”