The Torah commands us to give charitably to those less fortunate: “… you should give [your destitute brother] repeatedly, and your heart should not feel bad when you give to him.” (Deut. 15:10). In Judaism, we are ALL expected to donate. As it says in the Code of Jewish Law, “Everyone is obligated to give charity. Even people supported by charity must contribute from what they receive.”
According to Rabbi Mendel Kalmanson, “this law seems radical on the one hand, and absurd on the other.” Radical because how can someone with nothing give to another? Absurd because it means that those in a position to give must give extra so that the recipient can give too!
Rabbi Kalmanson explains the unique Jewish understanding of charity. God created this world out of kindness, making us the recipients of the first act of charity. So we are all takers. But we are created in God’s image, so we are naturally givers too. We all have an inborn need to give, and “the moment we stop giving part of us stops living. Giving then is not a luxury but a necessity of life.”
It is degrading for a poor man to ask for money. How much worse the degradation if he is also deprived of the deep fulfillment that comes from giving! “In Judaism giving is not just a hobby, repaying a debt to society, or even just the good or right thing to do; it is, rather, part of what makes us tick, like nutrition, energy, and oxygen.”
Let us all be generous in our philanthropy, so that our recipients can become philanthropists too!
Image: Rosh Hashanah greeting card depicting an act of charity (early 20th cent.)