Why and how to practice charity, the Jewish way
Giving may seem like a sacrifice at times (especially when money is tight) or we often wonder if the person we give to is worthy or really needs our help, but in reality being charitable to others does more for us, for our relationships with G-d and with our fellow human beings than it does to the people who we give to. With that in mind, I’ve put together some Jewish wisdom to help inspire you along:
Don’t underestimate the importance of giving and being charitable. We read in Babylonian Talmud, Bava Barthra 9a and 9b:
Charity is equal in importance to all the other commandments combined… One who gives charity in secret is greater than Moses.
Don’t look for reasons not to give to someone asking for help. Rabbi Shmelke of Nikosberg said:
When a poor man asks you for aid, do not use his faults as an excuse for not helping him. For then G-d will look for your offenses, and He is sure to find many.
Giving to others before approaching G-d just may make your prayers go up faster. In Shulkhan Arukh, Orakh Chayim it is written:
It is good to give charity before praying.
Don’t just give – inspire others to give!
R. Eleasar said: He who causes others to do good is greater than he who himself does good, for it is said, “He who causes the giving of charity confers peace” (Isa 32:17)
Spread out your giving so that it becomes a habit. Don’t simply give out big lumps of cash but only once in a while:
A person who gives a thousand gold pieces to a worthy person is not as generous as one who gives a thousand gold pieces on a thousand different occasions, each to a worthy cause. (Anonymous, Orhot Zaddikim/The Ways of the Righteous)
Give to all who need it without regard to who they are, as we all are made in G-d’s image. Babyloniyan Talmud, Gittin 61a:
We support the non-Jewish poor along with the poor of Israel.
Don’t expect G-d to owe you something when you give charity. We read in P. Sanhedrin 10:1, 27d :
“He who expects hand for hand is a bad man who will not go unpunished.” (Prov. 11:21) . R. Phineas said: The verse spoke of a man who does a charitable act and expects the reward for it at once. Such a man, said R. Simeon, is like one who says [to G-d], “Here is the sack, the coin, and the measure: Get up at once and measure it out [that is you owe me so bless me in return].
Sometimes all that G-d wants from you is to be kind and generous to others. R. Eleazar said (B. Sukkot 49b):
Greater is he who does charity that he who offers all the sacrifices, for it is said, “To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the L-rd than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3)
The poor actually do more for those who give charity, than the other way around. R. Joshua taught (Leb R. 34:9)
More than what a rich man does for the poor man, the poor man does for the rich man, as is said: “The man’s name whom I helped today is Boaz” (Ruth 2:19). Ruth did not say , “Who helped me,” but, “Whom I helped.”
Be careful not to humiliate the person you are giving to. We read in Hag 5b; Eccles. R. 12:14:
When R. Yannai saw a certain man giving a coin to a poor man in front of everyone, he said: It should have been better not to have given it to him than to have given and put him to shame.
And finally, strive be the right type of person when it comes to charity:
Among those who asked to give charity are four types: he who wishes to give but does not wish others to give – he is grudging toward others; he who wishes others to give but is himself unwilling to give – he is grudging of his own; he who willingly gives and wishes others to give – the pious man; he who does not give and wishes others not to give – the wicked man. (Avot 5:16)