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B4. Giving Charitably to Persons in Need.    [Make a Comment]

We are to give tz'dakah to the poor among us.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Key Scriptures

Leviticus 25:35-36 (Maimonides RP195; Meir MP38; Chinuch C479)
If a member of your people has become poor, so that he can't support himself among you, you are to assist him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident, so that he can continue living with you. Do not charge him interest or otherwise profit from him, but fear your God, so that your brother can continue living with you.

Deuteronomy 15:7 (Maimonides RN232; Meir MN62; Chinuch C478)
If someone among you is needy, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which ADONAI your God is giving you, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from giving to your needy brother.

Deuteronomy 15:8 (Meir MP38; Chinuch C479)
No, you must open your hand to him and lend him enough to meet his need and enable him to obtain what he wants.

Deuteronomy 15:9-10
Guard yourself against allowing your heart to entertain the mean-sprited thought that because the seventh year, the year of sh'mittah is at hand, you would be stingy toward your needy brother and not give him anything, for then he may cry out to ADONAI against you, and it will be your sin. Rather, you must give to him, and you are not to be grudging when you give to him. If you do this, ADONAI your God will bless you in all your work, in everything you undertake.

Deuteronomy 15:11 (Maimonides RP195; Meir MP38)
For there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, 'You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land'.

James 2:14-17
What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such "faith" able to save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, and someone says to him, "Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!" without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead.

1 John 3:17
If someone has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can he be loving God?

Supportive Scriptures

Matthew 6:1-4
Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, when you do tzedakah, don't announce it with trumpets to win people's praise, like the hypocrites in the synagogues and on the streets. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you do tzedakah, don't even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Then your tzedakah will be in secret; and your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:19-21
Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 6:38
Give and you will receive gifts - the full measure, compacted, shaken together and overflowing, will be put right in your lap. For the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure back to you!

Luke 11:33-34
No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.

Luke 12:33
Sell what you own and do tzedakah - make for yourselves purses that don't wear out, riches in heaven that never fail, where no burglar comes near, where no moth destroys.

Luke 14:12-14
Yeshua also said to the one who had invited him, "When you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends, brothers, relatives or rich neighbours; for they may well invite you in return, and that will be your repayment. Instead, when you have a party, invite poor people, disfigured people, the crippled, the blind! How blessed you will be that they have nothing with which to repay you! For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Luke 16:19-25
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.'

Acts 6:1-3
Around this time, when the number of talmidim was growing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against those who spoke Hebrew that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called a general meeting of the talmidim and said, "It isnt appropriate that we should neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables. Brothers (choose seven men from among yourselves who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will appoint them to be in charge of this important matter ..."')

1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Now, in regard to the collection being made for God's people: you are to do the same as I directed the congregations in Galatia to do. Every week, on Motza'ei-Shabbat, each of you should set some money aside, according to his resources, and save it up; so that when I come I won't have to do fundraising.

2 Corinthians 9:6-9
Here's the point: he who plants sparingly also harvests sparingly. Each should give according to what he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God has the power to provide you with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way you will have all you need yourselves and be able to provide abundantly for every good cause - as the Tanakh says, "He gave generously to the poor; his tzedakah lasts forever."


Charity, in the Jewish world, is known as tz'dakah. The first thing to notice about the Scriptures that underlie this commandment is that they do not limit tz'dakah to giving for, as you can see in Deuteronomy 15:8 and Leviticus 25:36, lending to the poor without charging interest is considered a work of tz'dakah as well. Leviticus 25:35 begins by referring to "a member of your people", and charges us with a duty to help our brother Israelite so that he (and presumably his family) can continue to live among us, meaning whatever style of living is par in our community. A charitable burden such as this cannot be complied with by the average person or family, so it is reasonable that the Scripture intends a considerable part of it to be fulfilled communally. Also, although the term "your people" meant fellow Israelites, for us the commandment should be broadened to mean fellow Jews (be we Jewish), and fellow brothers in Messiah, be we Jews or not.

The heart of the commandment is that God wants us to take responsibility for our impoverished brother's welfare and, in order to be able to do so, our communities must establish some level of financial safety net for its members. If we do not, brothers on whom hard times fall will have to move away from the community, and the inevitable result is fractured relationships, which is not God's intent. The possibility of emergency and sometimes long-term needs developing within any congregational community suggests the wisdom of the community establishing a benevolence fund; administering such a fund, as well as coordinating other resources (both congregational and personal), is one of the important functions of a deaconate (shamashim).

Besides the corporate measures I spoke of, the Scriptures I mentioned suggest that we have personal responsibility as well. For that reason, we ought to develop a plan for giving charity that includes setting aside funds, and opening our homes with which HaShem has blessed us, to provide emergency sheltering when needed. The degree to which we must funds and resources from our own families in order to give to others is not clear from the Scriptures, so we must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us guidance before (and certainly when) the need to give occurs.

Another thing to notice in the Scriptures is that Leviticus 25:35 implies that we are also to give tz'dakah to those who we do not count as brothers, for it says "... you are to assist him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident." The way this is put is interesting because it suggests that we would have no question or hesitation in helping the foreigner, whereas we need a commandment to motivate us to help those closer to us. Could it be that we sometimes have less compassion for our family and peers than we do for strangers?

Our obligation to a give to others in need is carried over to the New Covenant Scriptures with such strength that it might as well have been presented as a commandment there as well. 1 John 3:17 equates withholding tz'dakah from our brother with our not loving God, and James 2:14-17 tells us that our charitable acts are an indication of the level of our faith. Luke 6:38 is interesting in its application of sowing and reaping, but I prefer to not think in those terms because I do not want to taint any charitable act on my part with even a fleeting thought of self-interest.

In addition to it being required by Torah, giving tz'dakah is a time-honored practice in Jewish homes where a tz'dakah box for spare coins is often in plain view. It is further my opinion that giving tz'dakah should always be over and above other giving that is required of us, including our tithes and other offerings.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides warns us against giving tz'dakah as a way of benefiting ourselves and suggests that, where possible, it ought to be given anonymously. Meir has a great deal to say about tz'dakah that is very motivating. For starters, he makes the statement: "We are duty-bound to be more careful about the mitzvah of charity than about all the other positive commandments"1. He goes on to say that "charity is a distinguishing characteristic of the descendants of Abraham"2, and that the "faith of truth" and charity are inseparably linked. Maimonides construes the commandment as our being responsible to give tz'dakah to humanity broadly, while Meir is more explicit in applying it to Jews. HaChinuch tells us that one of the values of giving tz'dakah anonymously us to not embarrass the recipient, and suggests that if a needy person is reluctant to receive it as a gift, he might, nevertheless, receive it as a loan. He also opines that even a poor man is obligated to give tz'dakah, and reminds us that even a normally wealthy man can fall on hard times financially due to illness and other causes, and may need temporary help, possibly in the way of a loan.

1. Quoted from C. Chavel, The Commandments (Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides in two volumes) (London: The Soncino Press, Ltd., 1967)

2. ibid.


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