As told to Sarah Perl
It was that time of year again: Erev Purim. The scene in my grocery store was hectic, yet festive. Lively Purim music played in the background. There were shrieks of delight as children—some already in their Purim costumes—chhose candies for their mishloach manos, and then balanced them precariously in the overfilled carts. Women were skillfully maneuvering their carts through the crowded isles, purchasing last-minute items for the Purim seudah.
But there was no time for me to enjoy the scene—I was busy at my register. I was finishing up with a customer when I caught sight of the woman behind her. My heart sank. Mrs. Klein was a widow, the mother of a few small children. Since the untimely death of her husband, her financial situation had become precarious. She was a proud woman who had once lived a lavish lifestyle, and therefore had a very hard time accepting help from others. Needless to say, an erev chag in her home was not a very happy time.
As the owner of a large kosher grocery store, I am often confronted with difficult situations like this one. Mrs. Klein already had a large unpaid bill, too large. There’s no way I can afford to allow this to continue, I thought. I had my vendors to pay, not to mention numerous other bills.
But on the other hand, I realized, I can’t allow Mrs. Klein to go home without food for Purim. So although she had already reached the maximum amount of credit that I had allowed, I disregarded the policy and rang up her purchases. It broke my heart when she carefully weighed each item, and put a few on the side. Once finished, I put on a forced smile and wished her a freilichin Purim. I hoped that her Purim would indeed be happy, and that the sun would soon shine again in her life.
Later that day Mr. Hertz came to my register. He is an old customer, and over the years we have become quite friendly. As I rang up his purchases, we talked about our children and about our plans for Purim. After he paid for his groceries I wished him a freilichen Purim and turned to the next costomer.
“Wait, I need a favor from you,” said Mr. Hertz. I looked up from the register and turned back to Mr. Hertz.
I watched as he pulled out his wallet and counted out $1000. “Here,” he said, handing me the stack of bills, “please take this and use it for matanos l’evyonim. I’m sure that as a grocery-store owner you know a family in our community who needs it. Don’t tell me who it is; just credit their account and never tell them where the money came from.”
The decision was not very difficult – I immediately credited the Mrs. Klein’s account. As I accepted the money from Mr. Hertz, I was deeply moved by the chessed of klal Yisrael. This was tzedakah in one of the highest forms. The benefactor didn’t know who he had given the money to, and the recipient would never know where the money came from. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!
This article originally appeared in Ami Magazine