Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rabbi Min on Pe'ah

Dignified Helping The Poor - Basic Jewish Value #6:  The mission statement of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico reads: “Guided by Jewish values, we offer targeted social services that help preserve and improve the quality of life for New Mexicans.” What are these Jewish values? How do they help guide the day-to-day work that we do at JFS? When new employees join the staff of JFS, they are introduced to eighteen of these basic Jewish values.

The sixth Jewish value that underlies JFS' work is called Pe'ah, which we describe as "Dignified helping the poor." The word Pe'ah literally means 'corner' - so how is this related to the concept of helping poor people while respecting their dignity? How does this relate to the work of JFS?

The Torah requires farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, left to be picked by "the poor and the stranger" ( Leviticus 19:9-11). Fruits from the trees and grapes from the vines were treated similarly. The crops at the corners were of equal quality as the rest of the crops: the poor were not given bruised fruit or spoiled wheat. Since leaving a portion of one's produce for the poor was required, society did not have to depend on the inconsistent generosity of the well-to-do in order to provide welfare for those who lacked basic necessities. Dignity of the needy was preserved, since people could come at any time of day or night to glean the corners of the fields.

At JFS we protect the dignity of those we serve, while providing for their needs, in a number of ways. We stringently follow guidelines for protecting the identity of our clients, following strict guidelines for keeping client files locked and accessible only to staff with a 'need to know' - sharing information among staff only to the extent necessary to help the client. We do publicize the names of our donors, since knowing that other people are giving is crucial in order to maintain widespread support for any system of support. Thank you!

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