LAWS OF GIFTS TO THE POOR
THE 8 LEVELS OF CHARITY
THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF TZEDDAKAH
TEACH A MAN TO FISH... AND GIVE HIM THE JOB!
“There are eight levels to charity – one above the other. The greatest level – and there is no level greater than this – is one who strengthens the hand of a Jew who is poor, and he gives him a gift or a loan, or he makes a partnership with him or he finds him work in order to strengthen his hand, until he is no longer required to ask others. And about this it says (Leviticus 25:35) ‘And you shall strengthen him – the proselyte or resident so that he shall live with you.’ This means to say, strengthen him until he will not fall and be in need.”
Could the Rambam possibly have written any other Halacha throughout all his works as important as this one?! If there was an eleventh commandment after the Ten Commandments, perhaps this would be it!
G-d’s entire purpose in the world revolves around the concept of giving. (Psalms 89:3) “The world is built upon kindness.” G-d strengthens man so that he is able to achieve. On those occasions when a man is not filled with strength, he well knows the difficulty of not being able to do anything at all. He feels worthless – continually dependant upon others for help. What good is the poor person? Perhaps on our list of things we most want not to happen to us is to fall into poverty. The world speaks of the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. Those in the upper class are able not only to take care of themselves, but help many, many others as well. Those in the middle class try to simply get by with the basics of life, yet they seem to enjoy a certain sense of satisfaction with worldly possessions. And then there are the lower class – those who are often unable to afford to even take care of themselves.
Naturally there are many levels to each of these classes. Once we reach the lower class, we seem to enter a realm that none of us wish to tread in. There are some huge tests to deal with at this level. For some, these tests may involve the very question of life itself! What point is there in life if one simply cannot afford to live? What purpose is there for a person who cannot take care of himself? Not for nothing does the Torah speak of the poor man as being dead. He is unable to give to others; this being the greatest gift of all. One who is able to give is able to emulate his Creator – the Giver of everything. When one lacks, one feels no better than a stomach receiving food and unable to digest or eliminate anything from his body!
The Rambam begins his conclusion of the laws of charity. In the next few laws, he will enumerate the different levels – eight in total – for which we should pay particular attention, so that we can know just how to give of ourselves correctly.
Most of us find ourselves in a quandary at all times, wondering just how we should deal with our money. What should we purchase with it? Where should we invest it? How much should we spend this month? Perhaps, after all the questions related to the “Me” and “I” side of money, some of us turn our attention to the “You.” And if we think to ourselves concerning the difficulty of how to spend our money when it comes to ourselves, imagine our difficulties when it comes to deciding what to do with money when it comes to others?!
How much should we give and to who?! The Rambam does not tell us how much to give –although the Torah speaks elsewhere of the figure of 10% - for one who is “poor”, and 20% of one’s wealth – for those who are wealthy. In truth there is much to learn regarding the calculation of these amounts and exactly how much we each need to give. This needs to be discussed with an appropriate Rabbinical Torah authority.
At the same time as having an obligation to give to others, we must surely be careful not to destroy ourselves in this process! Yet the entire point of the Rambam’s laws regarding charity is to teach us that there is no way out. We each must give something! Once we take an accounting and a reckoning – much like an accountant would do to work out the tax necessary for each person each year – we must dispense of this additional wealth immediately. But there is certainly good news for us all! Whereas our taxes end up in the bank accounts of people we may not even ever meet or know what they are doing with our money – taking it quite often totally against our wills and squandering it for their own private luxuries, the money we give to charity truly aids everybody! The receiver is blessed with something he so much needs. G-d becomes filled with true Divine joy as He sees acts of kindness taking place in His world. And beyond this, the giver himself will be blessed as well.
The well known story is told regarding a man who owned a very large field. As the crops were harvested each year, he would take 10% of it and give it to charity – to the Kohen (and the Levite – see Numbers 18:20-29) as the Torah commands. The man died, leaving his son to take over the business. His son however, felt that 10% was just a little too much to give, and so he decided that he would increase his profits by giving just 9% a year! The next year instead of the harvest of 1000 stalks of wheat, the harvest came out at only 900. The man was furious at his loss, and felt that because he had lost so much (in spite of his “generous” act of giving) the next year he would only give away 8% of his crop! It seems Someone else was in charge, and the next year, the harvest yielded just 800 stalks of wheat. The man was more than furious at His Creator. Surely he had given his share fairly?! And so, the next year, he gave just 7%. Indeed, the next year following that, the man’s field harvested just 700. And so each year he would continue, until finally he was left with only 100 stalks of wheat left. The town’s people came through to him celebrating his “good fortune”! Meat, and only the best wine were served at the feast on this “festive occasion!” The man himself was broken, as he cried from the depths of his heart at his bad fortune – while the town was dancing for joy! He asked them why they were filled with such joy. “The Torah commands us to give 10% of our earnings to charity, to the Kohen and Levite,” they replied, “Since you are now harvesting only 100 stalks of wheat, although you had originally harvested 1000, it must surely be a sign that G-d has promoted you – and you have now become the Kohen!”
While we do not understand G-d’s governmental providence upon the world and why it is that some have more than others, it is definitely a given, that we are being watched – and that in accordance with what we give – based upon what we have – so will G-d act commensurately with each of us. There is nowhere to hide when it comes to wealth.
Imagine for just a moment the surprise so many of us will have when Moshiach – the Messiah finally redeems himself (may it be immediately!) Each of us will look at the size of our bank accounts, only to realise that the money that then remains there will be practically worthless. The entire world will be filled with every delicacy and delight. Each of us will have as much of what we want whenever we wish it – not having to rely on another human being for help – ever again! Imagine now the embarrassment of those whose bank accounts are so large, that it is only thanks to massive computers that such figures can be stored away somewhere! While those who lack will not be embarrassed of what they could have done with their money (which they lack), those who have much will suddenly realise the tremendous good they COULD have done – but didn’t! That wealth is only worthwhile now, before the final redemption. In fact, it is that wealth that will help the redemption come even sooner!
Of course the extremely wealthy need to consider saving their money for a rainy day too… but how much should be saved, and how much given? It is by no means an easy test! “Do not say I will study Torah when I have free time… because perhaps you will not have free time.” Each of us can excuse ourselves from learning Torah today – because we have much to do. When we retire – one day of course – and *then* we will have time - *then* we will study! Such excuses are no better off than simple procrastination. It is just the wiles of the inclination misdirecting us to stay far away from study. Who knows… perhaps when one retires, one will not actually have any strength to study, or perhaps one’s vision will not be as strong as it once was. Perhaps one will have never learned the Hebrew language, how to read properly or understand the texts. One cannot simply switch on to learning Torah when one retires! Torah is something that needs to be studied every day – even when there simply isn’t time!
So too, with the commandment of charity. It is true, one may want to save all one’s wealth for a rainy day… but what if that rainy day never actually comes? Won’t it be a waste to realise the good that could have come from the wealth one did have?! And so… perhaps when *that* rainy day does come, one may well not be here to deal with one’s wealth, because it will have already been given to those – who may be far less worthy of it altogether!
And so, the time is now. And we must give – even when we feel we can’t – and all the more so when we really can! But just how are we to give now?! And to whom?!
Is giving to the “Save the Dolphins” a worthy charity?! Should we give to the “Feed the Whale” [sic] organisation? How does the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals fit on the list?! What of giving to friends – who may not be Jewish?! There are so many to give to – and we only have 10% to give away! People may pass you along the street asking for wealth. Someone dressed in rags. Another lying on the street lacking legs (G-d forbid.) A Yeshiva student may ask for money to support himself so that he can learn Torah… and yet another person may simply want to start his married life with a sum of money to purchase an apartment! What do we do – or do we simply make up our own minds as to what we feel is best?!
Take care of the homeless dogs, and perhaps this will make for a far better world! Give more to your countries government – perhaps they are truly in need, and with such great work that they do, we can expect that they will hasten Moshiach arriving immediately! Perhaps giving to the fish of the sea and supporting them may actually help in eventually providing food for the Leviathan – that large fish that we will partake of at the time of the final redemption.
Don’t forget, there are hundreds of sports clubs and the like pulling you towards them in the hope that you will take care of their latest golf courses that they are building. Here too, our money can go… down the hole!
When it comes to giving, we have *only* the Torah that we can turn to for true assistance. And nobody says it all quite as well as the Rambam.
There are 8 degrees of giving. The highest has nothing to do with any of our wonderful causes we’ve mentioned. Rather it has to do with allowing another to live – just like we do. And while many may feel that not everyone can own a mansion and the latest luxury vehicle available, if one owns such a luxury oneself or drives one, indeed we must take another’s needs into account just the same as ourselves, because they too are people – just as we are. While we may not be physically able to help another have these things… it is certainly our duty to wish it for them and never to insult them for their own selfish needs (not taking a look at ourselves of course!)
The highest level of charity is to become a partner with someone else, help him purchase a business so that he can support himself, give him a loan or an outright gift! In none of these cases does the recipient feel ashamed, because instead, he feels important enough to know that he is about to embark in starting his life with success.
The Rambam’s choice of verse is most appropriate. “And *you* shall *strengthen* him – the proselyte or resident so that *he shall live with you.*” Rashi says the following, “Do not allow him to decline and fall, and it will be difficult to lift him up. Rather strengthen him from *the moment* of the faltering of his hand. To what is this comparable? To a burden on top of a donkey. While it is still on top of the donkey, one person can hold it and set it in place. Once it falls to the ground, five people cannot set it in place.”
The moment a person approaches another asking for help - *this* is the time to help (even if the golf club is just one million dollars away from completing their latest course!) If one will refuse to help them then, it could well be that the “load” will fall. Once it has fallen, then it could well be that even 5 people will not be of any use to help this person any longer. Life is too short to await the fate of a person in need. We always have excuses that prevent us from giving to the one in need, but what will we say when we turn around one day to see the often disastrous consequences of not having strengthened the hand of another in need? Too many of us know well what the embarrassment of not having wealth has done to another…
Just how far should we go to help? What does it mean that ‘he shall live with you’?
The Torah portion of Re’eh (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) gives us enough of a hint to understand the true value of giving and just how far we should go:
“When there will be amongst you a very poor person of one of your brothers in one of your gates in your land that G-d your L-rd gives to you, do not close your heart, and do not close your hand from the poor person. You shall surely open your hand for him and lend him a pledge – to whatever he is lacking.”
The Torah continues vv 9-10:
“…and your eye will be evil against your poor brother and you won’t give him, and he will call to G-d, and it will be a sin to you. You shall surely give him, and you heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because *it is because of this thing* that G‑d your L-rd will bless you in all your deeds and in all the performance of your hand.”
Rashi asks regarding the poor person – Who takes preference? He replied – The one who needs first, he takes preference. He then points out that your brother takes preference – your brother from your father even before your brother from your mother. And – The poor of your city take precedence over the poor of another city. In a dramatic finale to verse 7, Rashi says, “If you do not give to him, in the end you will become just like your poor brother!”
Instead as Rashi continues in v8, “Give him, even many times! And if he doesn’t want a gift, then give him a loan. Give him whatever *he* is lacking – even a horse to ride upon (a car?!) and even a servant to run before him (a chauffer?)” And once again in a dramatic statement Rashi concludes his commentary on v8 – whatever is lacking *for him*. These are the same words used when G-d created a helpmate for Adam – He created her (Chava / Eve) ‘for him.’ Even if another is lacking his soul-mate, part of the commandment of charity is to aid him in finding an appropriate match! (Perhaps even in helping the entire marriage to take place as well!)
There are always those Jews who wish to be meticulous regarding a number of Mitzvos. One may often see them checking their Etrogim (Citrus fruits) preparing for the festival of Sukkot. They may have magnifying glasses to check for the slightest blemish in the fruit. Their eyes ever so large to make certain that the Etrog is just perfect! They may take great care to wear the finest pair of Tefillin – beautiful and large. Some may be careful to wear even two pairs as well (although very often are not concerned if there are others who also wish this but simply cannot afford them!)
When it comes to the commandment of charity, things are no different. If we want to do things right, they begin with this very commandment – to make someone else self‑sufficient – in every sense of the word. If that means finding him a wife – then so be it. If it means helping pay for the wedding expenses – so be it. If it means helping him purchase a car – and even a chauffer, it seems that Rashi is quite in favour! Whatever he is lacking – that’s what he needs. It’s important to him.
While we continue feeling that the good things in life are only for ourselves, the Rambam and Rashi turn the tables around. We need to look out for the exact same things for others – without judgement. And just as we are particular with the perfection of our “lemons” for Sukkot, so too should we be as particular regarding setting another Jew on his feet – even if it means our taking a magnifying glass to see just how much he is actually crying out! If we help him now – by becoming a partner with him, offering him a job – giving him our business, lending him money or giving him a gift – without having to cause him embarrassment, we can be certain too that G-d will bless each of us accordingly – because in fact, this is the root for all blessing. If we turn away, the Torah warns us, we are no different than anybody else. We are all the same. And just as G-d brings poverty to one and wealth to another, it is just as easy for Him to turn the tables around.
They say that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a life time! I think the author of this quote may not have read this Rambam. He may have forgotten that even the owners of the lakes and the seas (governments?!) have their charges if you want to fish on “their” premises. And so, even when one does know how to fish, even this does not solve the problem of being fed for a lifetime.
Do you really want to feed another for a lifetime? Go ahead… teach him to fish. But more than this, give him a job as well!