The Mitzvah of Charity

The Bible teaches us to give generously to those in need. How much should we be giving to the poor and to the work of the kingdom?

 

Ionically, anti-Semites depict Jewish people as greedy, stingy money-lovers. The opposite is true. Charity is a central pillar of Jewish identity and the Torah-life. It reflects God’s own nature as an act of grace. When it The Mitzvah of Charitycomes to giving generously, Jewish people excel because Jewish culture has internalized the Torah’s principles of giving.

The Gospels and the Epistles constantly encourage us to give to those in need and to give generously. The Master quotes Deuteronomy 17:11 saying, “You always have the poor with you” (John 12:8), and He expects us to give generously to them. A majority of the Master’s directives have to do with the subject of giving charity. He assumes that we will give charity, saying, “When you give to the poor” (Matthew 6:2), not, “If you give to the poor.” He points out that even the hypocrites give charity.

Our Father in Heaven asks us to “freely open our hand to our brother, to the needy and the poor” (Deuteronomy 15:11). The Talmud states it this way: “Everybody is obliged to give charity; even one who himself depends upon charity should give to those less fortunate than himself.” You can always find someone less fortunate.

In Jewish terminology, charity and righteousness are almost synonymous. The Hebrew word tzedakah (צדקה) literally means “righteousness,” but people use it idiomatically as a synonym for charity and alms.

When we give charity, we should do so without fanfare or accolades. Yeshua tells us that when we give, we are not to announce with trumpets, which is to say, we are not to make a show out of it. He says our giving should be in secret. Reb Yannai once saw somebody giving a zuz to a poor man in the market place. He said, “It were better not to have given him anything rather than to have given him and shamed him.” According to Talmud, “It is permitted to deceive a poor man who out of pride refuses to accept charity, and to allow him to think that it is a loan you are giving him.” Our giving should be in secret, but of course, it is better to give in whatever manner we can than not to give at all.

Maimonides listed eight ascending levels of charity.

  1. One who gives sadly and reluctantly.
  2. One who gives less than is fitting, but in good humor.
  3. One who gives only after being asked to give.
  4. One who gives before being asked.
  5. One who gives in such a way that he does not know who is receiving it.
  6. One who gives in such a manner that the recipient does not know who the donor is.
  7. One who gives in total anonymity, so that he does not know who will receive it and the receiver does not know who gave it.
  8. One who helps the poor to rehabilitate themselves by lending them money, taking them into partnerships, employing them, or giving them work, for in this way the end is achieved without any loss of self-respect at all.

The sages say, “The poor man does more for the giver than the giver does for the poor man.” Why? Because the poor man gives the giver the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. When we come across those in need, our hearts should leap with joy because they provide us with the opportunity to do a mitzvah. Suddenly we have the opportunity to return to God some of the wealth he has bestowed upon us.

How much should we give? The true disciple asks “How much more can I give? How can I find a way to give more?”

Article reposted with permission of First Fruits of Zion

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