Asking the clergy: Should feeding the hungry be part of a congregation’s duty?
By JIM MERRITT
Many people of faith heed the call to collect canned goods for food banks or to volunteer in soup kitchens. This week’s clergy discuss why helping the needy put food on the table is not just a good deed but also a religious obligation.
Ven. Kottawe Nanda
Head monk, Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, Port Jefferson
Almsgiving (dana) in Buddhism involves giving to others regardless of social status, as an act of virtue. Buddhists believe that giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Furthermore, it has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver. A person who intends or aspires to attain Buddhahood (nibbana) has to develop tenfold spiritual perfections. The practice of dana is the first step and an essential preliminary step in Buddhist practice. According to Buddhist philosophy, the last step is to be enlightened in realizing nibbana. To attain nibbana one has to practice generosity, morality and meditation. While completing these steps, one can cultivate a tranquil, positive mindset and control behavior, enhance wisdom and gradually improve our wandering mind to become unusually lucid and clear. All beings live on food, and as such, hunger is described as a major disease in the universe. Once, a person came to Jethawanarama Temple, where Lord Buddha lived. The Lord Buddha found out that he was hungry. He instructed his monks to feed him first, before his sermon, an example of fulfilling the first basic principles of Buddhism. This present life is not our first or last life. We have been in endless cycles of birth (samsara) for a long period of time and will be so until we attain nibbana. We as humans expect long life, good complexion, strength, comfort and wisdom, which we get by consuming food. When we offer food, we literarily provide all the five elements mentioned above. The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues. Feeding the hungry is not only a congregation’s duty but also a moral obligation universally.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen
Chabad at Stony Brook, Lake Grove
In the code of Jewish Law it clearly states that a community should get together and create a fund for the needy. It further says, that they may even demand from one another to pitch in to this fund and contribute according to their ability. Clearly the Jewish view is that feeding the hungry is the responsibility of everyone, both on a personal and communal level. The Hebrew word “venotnu,” which means “to give,” is a Hebrew palindrome — it can be read backwards, too. This is because when one gives, heaven gives him in return. Indeed, this is the only time we may test and challenge God. God says, “Test Me now therewith, says the Lord of Hosts, [to see] if I will not open for you the sluices of heaven and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it” (Malachi 3:10). “The Rebbe,” Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, stood for hours distributing dollars and blessings to thousands of people every Sunday. The Rebbe’s intention was that the recipient should give the dollar to charity. Receiving a dollar from the Rebbe gave the responsibility of going out of one’s way for another’s benefit, a constant reminder that we should always be ready to share and care. The mitzvah of tzedakah/charity is a fundamental concept in Judaism. Our sages tell us that the Messianic era will be ushered in, in the merit of charity, and that charity has the power to avert bad decrees and bestow one with the gift of long life.
The Rev. Dyanne Pina
Executive director, The Long Island Council of Churches
The Christian faith has more than 25 biblical references that answer this question. Proverbs 22:9 teaches that a generous person is blessed when giving food to the poor. John 3:17-18 says to notice another in need, and we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words. James 2:15-17 rebukes one who tells a person in need to go in peace and yet does not provide for their bodily needs, and that faith without action is dead. Luke 12:34 instructs us that the treasure of giving to those in need is the greatest treasure on earth and in heaven. Feeding the hungry is the ministry and mission of The Long Island Council of Churches (LICC), providing food and other basic human needs at our three food pantries in Hempstead, Freeport and Riverhead. The LICC ensures food security by never turning away anyone in need. I grew up poor and there were many days when a loaf of bread was the only food on the table, if that. Back then there were not many options for a single working mother, and I remember my mother’s anxiety of what to do next. Feeding the hungry and enabling the poor is not just something we should do, it is something we must do. Philippians 2:4: “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”