Three Questions for your table...
This week I was in New York teaching about, among other things, tzedaka.
You know, the idea of giving some of your own money or time or other resources to a needy cause?
I happened to mention the Talmudic idea that a person is given 10 percent more income every year than he or she “deserves”, in karma-terms.
As soon as I said that, I could see a guy named David get a little uncomfortable. But my next line made him become visibly agitated, as if I’d pushed an invisible button.
“...Judaism goes on to say that if a person chooses not to devote that 10 percent surplus to tzedaka, then it will eventually be taken away from him.”
Boy did he hate that.
First question – Why did David hate that?
Second question: If someone is not a regular tzedaka-giver, what would it take for them become one? If not 10 percent of after-tax income, how about 2 percent?
(In the past I have suggested names of worthy causes, both in the US and Israel. One of the beautiful aspects of our tzedaka tradition is that the giver decides where to invest his tithe. Nonetheless, not all designees are equal.)
Third question: What is the best way to give tzedaka?
Maimonides identified eight levels of charity. If you’ve heard them before, see if you can name them before reading on...
1) The highest level, is to help a person become independent by lending to him or investing in his business, or sending him to school.
2) One who gives to the poor, but does not know to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know his benefactor.
3) One who knows to whom he gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins into the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this if those who are responsible for collecting tzedaka are not trustworthy.
4) One who does not know to whom he gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to pack coins into their scarves and hang them over their backs, and the poor would come and take the coins out so that they would not be ashamed.
5) One who gives to the poor person before being asked.
6) One who gives to the poor person after being asked.
7) One who gives to the poor person gladly and with a smile.
8) One who gives to the poor person unwillingly.
But even this lowest level is called “tzedaka” - righteousness.
One who gives at any level is therefore righteous.
By the way, since I know someone is going to ask, I’ll tell you the reason David told me, and then you can tell me if you agree or disagree with him.
He said, “I don’t like the idea of giving-because-I-feel-that-there’s-something-in-it-for-me. I want to give out of the sheer joy of helping someone. Giving is infectious. Once you start, you can’t stop.”
David, your attitude is infectious!
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