Tag Archives: poverty

The Tzedakah Life

tzedakah-to-lifeThe Code of Jewish Law (YD 248) states: “Every person is obligated to give tzedakah, even the poor who themselves are recipients thereof.” Maimonides writes that nobody ever became poor from giving tzedakah. In fact, the Talmud (Ta’anit 9a) states that when you give Ma’aser properly, it actually earns you additional wealth. “Which Charities to Give to?”

-From the Ask the Rabbi series

The Tzemach Tzedek writes: The love expressed in “Beside You I wish for nothing,” (Tehillim 73:25) means that one should desire nothing other than G-d, not even “Heaven” or “earth” i.e. Higher Gan Eden and Lower Gan Eden, for these were created with a mere yud…. The love is to be directed to Him alone, to His very Being and Essence. This was actually expressed by my master and teacher (the Alter Rebbe) when he was in a state of d’veikut and he exclaimed as follows: I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your gan eden, I don’t want Your olam haba… I want nothing but You alone.

“Today’s Day” Wednesday, Kislev 18, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

In yesterday’s morning meditation I mentioned that Christian financial adviser James W. Rickard was a special guest speaker last Sunday at the church I attend. As I was listening to what he was saying (the vast majority of which I was quite familiar with), I couldn’t help but think of how “Jewish” it sounded. For instance, he talked about being content with what one has and quoted New Testament scripture to back it up (I don’t have my notes handy, so I can’t tell you the exact verses). And yet, how much does that echo the sages?

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated: “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you” ; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you”—in the World to Come. -Pirkei Avot 4:1

Of course, Rickard’s “source material” is all Jewish (though he probably doesn’t think of it in those terms) so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that his financial advice and comments on charity should sound Jewish as well. For instance, he also said that the Bible does support God providing for us when we give to charity, but unlike those folks who preach a prosperity theology, he didn’t say that God would automatically return material goods and money to us in exchange for our generous giving to the church. He said that God could provide many spiritual gifts such as the ability to show abundant grace, mercy, compassion, courage, and so forth. In fact, Rickard didn’t have many nice things to say about some “Preachers” who urge their audiences to send in their “seed money” with the promise that those folks who do will become wealthy materially. In that scenario, usually the only one to become rich is the Preacher collecting the money.

But you can see that giving is a value that is shared by both Jews and Christians and that even those people who have very little can still provide something to those who have even less. It’s so hard to even think about giving when we’re in the middle of tough financial times. It seems this “recession” or whatever it is, has lasted longer than other, similar recessions of the past 20 or 30 or 40 years or so. When times are tough, the natural tendency is to reduce spending and to try to save up. kindnessOK, Americans are addicted to credit card debt, but imagine instead of being able to use a credit card, you have to hand over cold, hard cash. Now, you’ll see the reluctance to part with money that is “real” and not just a bunch of digital information traveling over a network. If all you had was cash, you’d want to save.

The simple reason I believe all people should give charity is that we are put here to serve God. Even an atheist may serve God unknowingly by giving to charity or providing some kindness to the poor and disadvantaged. If we wait for someone else to do it or for God to provide some sort of miracle to help the needy, we may miss out on the fact that God created you and me to be “the miracle.”

Lead a supernatural life and G‑d will provide the miracles. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “Be a Miracle” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

What is a supernatural life? Perhaps one composed not only of “practical” or “common sense” but one that also utilizes faith and trust in God as its tools. It’s expecting God to be more faithful to us than we are to Him, and if we’re faithful, even within the bounds of human limitation, He is certain to be abundantly faithful. This doesn’t mean spending ourselves into debt, even for the sake of charity, but it does mean trusting that investing in another human being is not a waste of resources, nor will it cause us to suffer loss. No, you can’t give five bucks to every panhandler you encounter, nor can you write five dollar cheques to each and every charity that mails or emails you a request, but you can find a particular need and choose to satisfy it.

Many people will spend themselves into debt to satisfy the “requirement” of Christmas, with all of its gift giving, social obligations, and so forth. If instead, you took a sizeable sum of the money you would otherwise spend on gifts that people probably don’t need (still gift them if you must, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant) and bought food for the local food bank, purchased and donated clothing and blankets to a homeless shelter, or donated funds to a worthy cause in the name of a loved one, how much more would your giving really mean?

acts-of-kindnessIf you are a person of faith and trust, then God will allow you to do what He considers good, but have a care. If you’re giving in order to cause God to give back to you, then your motives are shot through with holes. True, the needy will still be provided for, but you may be cheating yourself out of drawing nearer to God if what you want from Him is dollars and cents. If December seems too much like the stereotypic month to give for the sake of the Christian holiday, there’s no law that says you can’t give in January or in some other month. People get hungry and need shelter every day of the week, fifty-two weeks out of the year. And God is always there.

To a fool, that which cannot be explained cannot exist. The wise man knows that existence itself cannot be explained. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “The Inexplicable” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

The Hungry Gentile

leket-projectThe Gemara relates that Levi had planted grain and there were no poor people to come and collect the leket. He consulted with R’ Sheishes as to what should be done and R’ Sheishes told him that if there are no poor people who will come to collect the leket he may keep it for himself. Rambam rules in accordance with this position and writes that if there are no poor people he may take the grain for himself and is not obligated to give the monetary value of the leket to the poor. Tur writes that if there are no poor people who live in the vicinity one is not obligated to leave leket in his field. Nowadays, the custom is that people do not leave the gifts for the poor in their fields since the majority of the poor people are gentile and if the gifts were left in the fields gentiles would came and take them.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Gifts to the poor”
Chullin 134

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’-Matthew 25:37-40

What a minute. We read in the commentary on the daf that the commandment for a Jewish farmer to leave an unreaped corner of his field for the poor (based on Leviticus 19:9) seems only to apply to the Jewish poor. If there are no poor Jews in the area but only poor Gentiles, the farmer is under no obligation to provide for them. Can that be right? It seems a little harsh. Are we to infer that when Jesus teaches his Jewish disciples about feeding the poor in Matthew 25 that he only means Jewish poor? That’s not the way most Christians would interpret the message and that’s not how Christian charities work in general.

I have great admiration and respect for the Jewish sages and do my best, within my limited skill set, to study their teachings, but this one is a little hard to swallow, assuming I’m reading it right. The Talmud doesn’t universally have such an uncaring attitude toward non-Jews, and quite some time ago, I recorded some of the portions of the Talmud that relate to Gentiles in the blog post, What the Talmud Says About Gentiles, Revisited. Here are a couple of comments regarding how Jews are to treat the poor among the Gentiles:

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

earthquake-aid-assistanceIn recent years, Muslim Turkey, once an ally of Israel, has become increasingly hostile toward the Jewish nation, supposedly over how Israel is “mistreating” the people in Gaza. However, after the most recent earthquake in Turkey, Israel unreservedly offered aid to Turkey and after initial refusals, Turkey accepted.

We know from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) that Jesus directed his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”, which seems to say that how we treat others is the way God will treat us. This also reflects a modern Jewish teaching.

How you treat others is how G-d treats you. How you forgive them is how He forgives you. How you see them is how He sees you.

When you show empathy for the plight of another human being, G-d takes empathy in your plight.

When others slight you and you ignore the call to vengeance that burns inside, G-d erases all memory of your failures toward Him. When you see the image of G-d in another human being, then the image of G-d becomes revealed within you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Image”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I suppose I’m in no position to disagree with the rulings of the sages, but I’m going to disagree with this one anyway. If the farmer would have left unharvested corners in his field for the poor, they are the poor, regardless if they are the Jews of his community or Gentiles living nearby. I can see that the commandment is meant to apply to the Jews primarily so that if there are Jewish poor, the remains in the field should be for them. However, even if we can’t extend the obligation to feeding poor Gentiles, assuming no Jewish poor are around, I think compassion should tell the farmer that a hungry Gentile was also created in the image of God.

Be the Change You Want to See

Feeding Hungry ChildrenYou open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thingPsalm 145:16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Once, when a poor man came to Rav Shmelke for a donation, the rebbe realized that he had nothing for him, not a penny. After a moment’s thought he recalled that his wife had an expensive piece of jewelry under her pillow. Since he was sure that his wife would be happy to give it for tzedakah he immediately rushed into the next room and brought the jewelry. As the poor man was leaving, obviously thrilled with the windfall, Rav Shmelke’s wife approached her home.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“The Delight of Shabbos”
Chullin 111

It is written that one should give a lot of charity on the eve of Succos. One should also invite poor guests for Yom Tov, each person according to his means.

-Sharei Teshuvah section 1
As quoted from A Guide to the Laws of Succos

Jews and Christians, as people of faith, have a tradition of helping the poor and the downtrodden. For Jews during Sukkot, it is a mitzvah, a kindness in obedience to God, to invite the poor into your sukkah to share a meal, so that the joy of one who has plenty may become the joy of one who does not.

But how far does Jewish or Christian “charity” go? I ask because the concept of money, economy, rich, and poor are very much on people’s minds and in the news media right now. The “99 percent” feel as if they have been robbed and cheated out of their fair income and earnings by the “one percent” who control most of the world’s wealth. There is ample evidence of this, at least according to a digg.com article showing information from the Congressional Budget Office. Frankly, seeing the chart in this article’s photo would make just about anyone upset.

However, there are some who believe that the problems of the so-called “99 percent” are a result of people not taking sufficient responsibility for their circumstances and their behavior. I saw a rather interesting photo originally (from my point of view) posted by Tim Davis on Facebook advocating this perspective and the person holding the sign isn’t the only one. The Daily Kos posted a photo of “the 53% guy”, a former Marine who advocates hard work and lives out his convictions, and the blog published a rebuttal to the Marine’s statements from a more liberal perspective. The Daily Kos article, written by Max Udargo, didn’t offer a link to the source of the photo, but I tracked the original source to We are the 53% thanks to FlaglerLive.com. Apparently, there are a lot of “53% guys”.

But who is right, or does it matter? More importantly, as people of faith, what do we believe and what is God’s expectations for our behavior? Let me show you two extremely different points of view. We’ll start with Udargo.

I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you. For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it.

Now let’s compare this viewpoint with one I found the Mountain Home News.

IT is NOT for the GOVERNMENT to spend our tax dollars on anything else but OUR needs in this country., and it’s right there in Article I, Section VIII,

105 million to Somalia…………..”OK ZOOK…….you’ve already ranted about that on past blogs…………..yes. I have. Now I’m gonna tell ya why it’s so important………..

It’s not just the MONEY……….to you & me, 105 million dollars would be a once in a lifetime lottery win……….to the BUREAUCRATS back there, it’s as casual as a cup of coffee……(after all, it ain’t THEIR money).

That 105 million is a CLEAR PICTURE to the THOUGHT PROCESS back there. Don’t you remember that “debt ceiling fiasco?”……wasn’t all that long ago…….My God, the world was coming to an END…….grandma was going have her medicine taken away, our kids were gonna have to eat worms and die, the nation was about to collapse, all the Social Security and pension checks were gonna stop, everything was gonna come to a screeching halt (except the food stamps, free medical & education for illegals)——–REMEMBER THAT?

This USED to be America, and without your help, it CAN be again. This is NOT the World Welfare Office.

Remember that I said I was going to post extreme viewpoints. I don’t happen to agree with either one.

Mr. Udargo wants to live in a country where free healthcare is provided at the same level for a person regardless of income, lifestyle, and motivation. From his point of view, healthcare services should be identical, regardless of whether you work and earn an income or if you choose not to work and prefer to be unemployed or even choose to habitually abuse drugs. As far as I can tell from reading Mr. Udargo’s article, what a person does shouldn’t matter, only that he or she is a human being. On the other hand, what’s the point of working and working hard to make sure your family’s needs are taken care of if someone is just going to give “free” healthcare to you anyway and let someone else pay for it?

The Mountain Home News blog (certainly a very minor media outlet), holds the opposite point of view and believes that taxpayer money is completely wasted on providing assistance to those the Federal Government deems needy. His rant (I can’t think of a more appropriate word for it) is even more extreme than the position taken by author/philosopher Ayn Rand in her book (which I recently read) Atlas Shrugged, which also advocates self-responsibility and receiving only the benefits that you have earned by your personal efforts. From Rand’s point of view, choosing to be charitable is one thing, but being forced to be charitable by the Government, especially to the point of self-extinction, is virtually a crime.

But in its extreme form, isn’t a type of self-extinction what Mr. Udargo is advocating? Like so many who espouse an economically liberal point of view, they fail to take into consideration the cost. If you impose the level of taxes necessary to provide free and good healthcare to literally every American citizen across the board, including and especially those who refuse to work (as opposed to those who are out of work due to circumstances and who would do anything to find and keep employment), what amount of income would those of us who have work now get to keep from our labors? Right now, economically liberal people believe it is the corporations that are keeping them “poor” (and if we’re talking about 99% of the American population, most of them aren’t destitute and starving), but we all voluntarily purchase most of the goods and services provided by said-corporations. We could inhibit their exorbitant incomes dramatically just by refusing to buy their stuff. On the other hand, it is illegal to refuse to pay our taxes, even though we don’t have a great deal of control about how that tax money is spent.

In ancient Israel; Biblical Israel, when a person couldn’t pay their debts, they sold themselves into slavery. This was really more indentured servanthood and the person would only be a slave for seven years (Exodus 21:1-11). At the end of that time, if the slave chose to leave, the master was supposed to give the slave enough money to basically set him up in his own business so he could provide for himself. This is what I call the “ancient Israeli welfare system”. At no time did a person simply sit back and receive an income for doing nothing.

On the other hand, we have Acts 4:32-35 which states:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Probably the most extreme example of giving in the New Testament was taught by Jesus himself:

Yeshua (Jesus) sat facing the treasury box. He was watching the people placing ma’ot (small silver coins) into the treasury box, and many rich people gave much. A poor widow came and gave two prutot (small copper coins), a quarter of an issar (large copper coin). He called to his disciples and said to them,

Amen, I say to you that this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury box. For all of them gave of their surplus, but she, out of her lack, has given all that she had – her entire living! –Mark 12:41-44 (DHE Gospels)

So what are we to believe and what are we to do? Should we become angry at our lot in life, blame the corporations and their CEOs for what we don’t have in luxuries and for some of us, even necessities, and start protesting. Should we instead pick up signs and march on our local and national government offices and blame them for the same things? Who is at fault for the state of our nation and for the state of the poor?

Does it matter? I suppose in terms of God’s justice, any injustice matters, but what are we to do about it? Should we ignore the poor or help them? Should we only give to those who are out of work and seeking to regain employment, or should we also be giving to anyone, regardless of their circumstances and the choices they are making?

HomelessIt seems to come down to a matter of choice, and I think that’s what the Bible is trying to tell us. Jesus paid his taxes willingly (Mark 12:17) regardless of how Rome was going to make use to that income. His disciples did sell all that they had and gave the proceeds to the poor among them. Even the poor widow chose to give her entire income to the treasury box. No one made these people (with the exception of the Roman tax) give away their money. They made a conscious decision to do so. It’s not wrong to feed a starving child. It’s not wrong to give to organizations who provide medical care for the needy. It’s not even wrong to give away literally everything you own so that the poor will have something to eat for a day or two (even though, in the process, you make yourself one of the poor).

But you don’t have to. More accurately, you are not compelled to give away literally everything you own for the sake of another. If it is part of your values system to do so, then you can do so. If Max Udargo wants to surrender his entire income, all of his savings, everything he’s got, in order to provide healthcare for even one person, regardless if they choose to work or not, he is completely free to do so. But he shouldn’t be made to do so. If the writer of the Mountain Home News blog doesn’t want to surrender his income for the benefit of others, he shouldn’t be made to do so. It’s not charity if it has to be forced or if the consequence of not giving is to go to jail (such as for income tax evasion).

I can’t tell you that corporate greed isn’t a problem or that adjustments shouldn’t be made in the system, but I’m not going to tell you that those who have worked, and worked hard for their incomes should be deprived of them for the sake of people who choose not to take advantage of the opportunity to work. I can tell you that you can look at who God is and how He has taught us mercy and compassion and you can act accordingly. You can give but it is your choice based on the values you hold dear as a person of faith.

While there is plenty of injustice in the world, including the injustice that is evident in the realms of private business and public politics, we can either be angry or we can look around, see a need, and fill it. I know that won’t solve all the world’s problems and make people be more just, but we can be just by contributing to making the world a little bit better. We don’t have to do this by surrendering our entire income to impoverished drug addicts. We don’t have to do this by quitting our jobs and moving to another country to work with starving children (although we can certainly choose to do those things). We can do this by living out each day, being responsible for our lives, our behavior, and providing for ourselves and our families, and also by opening our hand and providing for someone else who truly needs our help, within the limits of our compassion and our ability. But if you have picked up a sign and protested against corporations but haven’t given even a dollar to the homeless or one can of soup to the food bank, then your values and your priorities are in need of examination.

The Panoramic Garden

It’s a broken world and we can’t fix it all by ourselves. However, we can be one part of the solution. We can be a partner with God to help, even a little bit, and if everyone did that, perhaps there would be fewer people who are poor and hungry. You can be the change you want to see in the world. You can choose to be the answer to someone’s prayer.