To “enable” means to make something possible, such as to give someone authority over others or the means to accomplish a goal.
However, “enabling” someone is not the same thing: to enable someone is to help them accomplish what they need to do, but when we are enabling someone, we are doing what needs to be done, ourselves, instead of helping them to do it.
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It is as the old adage goes: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
In Hebrew, the word tzedakah means “charity.” It is a mitzvah (good deed) to do tzedakah, and Shaul tells us all that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6), so what can be wrong with enabling someone if it is done cheerfully?
What is wrong with it is that you do not help someone by always doing for them what they need to learn to do for themselves.
I have been blessed with people in different third world countries asking me to help them by supplying them with Bible study materials and other needs. They have asked me to send them the books I have written and also to raise funds for education and transportation. I have done so twice, and I don’t mind sharing that it has been mostly at my personal expense. I have had to tell people that I will no longer spend my own money to help them, and have offered, instead, suggestions on how they could or might try to solve these problems on their own.
It bothers me that I have to do this because, honestly, I could find the means in my budget to send them money every month, even though it would cost me a lot of money in transfer fees. But I already do tzedakah to some charities that are doing God’s work and to secular charities, as well. And I know that whatever blessings God gives me that I share with others will be given back to me because God never runs out of blessings. But does that mean I have to give up everything God has given me?
Do you know the story about the Rabbi and the flood?
A small town was in the path of an oncoming flood and when the water was up to everyone’s ankles, the town’s Rabbi was running all over town warning people to leave. A man came by in a pickup truck and said, “Get in Rabbi!” but the Rabbi said, “Go save someone else- God will take care of me.”
The water continued to rise and now it was up to his waist. He was still wading through helping people when a man came by in a rowboat and said, “Rabbi, get in and I will take you to safety.” The Rabbi said, “Go save someone else- God will take care of me.” Now the water is up to his ears and he is swimming to make sure people are getting out when a helicopter comes overhead, and they shout through their megaphone, “Rabbi- we are dropping a line. Grab hold so we can pull you up.” But again the Rabbi said, “Go save someone else- God will take care of me.”
Eventually, the Rabbi drowns in the flood, and when he gets to heaven he asks God, “Why did you let me drown? I told everyone that you would take care of me?” God said to the Rabbi, “What are you talking about? I sent you a truck, I sent you a rowboat…I even sent you a helicopter!”
There comes a point when we have to make sure that we enjoy the blessings God has given us instead of hastily giving them away, even when what we are doing is a form of tzedakah. This is a truth that Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) came to realize.
I confess I do feel guilty that I won’t spend money when I know I could, but this is part of the “tough love” that we all need to practice when we see people who are in genuine need and who constantly ask for help. Once you give, you should expect to be asked to give, again, and you need to recognize when you have reached the point at which you are no longer helping someone to resolve their problems, but enabling them by solving their problems, for them.
Here in America (and this is my opinion) too many parents over the past two generations or so have stopped teaching their children how to be independent, and instead of exposing them to the tsouris in the world (I’m using a lot of Jewish terminologies today!) have tried to raise them in a bubble of protection to “empower” them and not “traumatize” their young, innocent minds. This has proven itself to be a bad thing because so many of the “Millennials” are totally clueless about the world, and have such “thin skin” that they are traumatized by the slightest, little problem. They haven’t been taught how to live independent lives or to deal with the problems in the world: they have been so enabled they can’t even blow their own nose!
And they also have no ability to discern… anything.
This is what enabling does to a person, and even when someone’s motives are good, the results speak for themselves: when you are enabling someone you are not helping them, you are actually hurting them.
So, what is my point? It is this: you should do tzedakah, but you need to use discernment and recognize when your good deed is no longer doing that person any good. When you feel you have reached that point, you need to be compassionately stern and simply say, “I am sorry, but I won’t do this for you anymore. I will pray for you, I will offer suggestions and emotional support, but the money stays with me.”
Tough love is tough on both the ones giving it and the ones receiving it, but it is the only way to help someone else learn to take care of themself.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!