A friend wrote to me recently describing being in a financial jam, the result of a stroke of bad luck:

Someone has actually offered to create a Go Fund Me for me- though I am really struggling with my comfort with the whole idea. Even though I have contributed to many of them, it feels awkward to be the one asking for help… If you have words of wisdom to help allay my discomfort at accepting help, I would gratefully accept them.

It is a lot harder to ask for help than to give it. When we give help, we are in a position of power, lending a hand to another. It doesn’t matter whether it’s money or something else: the one who HAS, has the power. The one who has to ask is admitting and feeling powerlessness.

What do I fear, when I ask for help? I fear ridicule. I fear “being a nuisance.” I fear rejection. I fear gossip about perceived reasons for my need. I fear being made other. I fear abandonment.

So yes, asking is hard. Receiving is hard.
Our tradition is aware of this, which is why we have so many boundaries on the giving of tzedakah. The idea of leaving the corners of the field for gleaners, that those corners belong to the poor, not to the owner of the field, is a way to boost the dignity of the poor. (Leviticus 19:9) In Laws of Gifts to the Poor, Maimonides makes it clear that we are to do what we can to make it easy for the person asking, because that person is already suffering. Even if we have to say no, we should still offer words of comfort and sympathy.
Here’s how I deal with it. I remind myself:
  • When I ask for help, I am giving people an opportunity for a mitzvah.
  • When I ask for help, I am giving someone an opportunity to “pay back” for help they have received.
  • When I ask for help, I am modeling the act of asking for help, and making it easier for someone else to ask.
  • When I ask for help, I am admitting that I am not God.

The truth is, if no one asked for help, it would make it hard for us to observe the mitzvot of tzedakah [charitable giving of funds] and gimilut hasidim [acts of kindness].

Someone reading this is thinking, “But what about the cheaters? What about the people who always have a hand out, asking for more?” I’ll deal with that in a future post.

Readers: How do you deal with asking for help? Is there anything that makes it easier for you to ask?