Charity Overload

By Rabbi Deborah Reichmann

Give now! Crowdfund! It’s my birthday, donate to my fundraiser! Support my cause! We can’t do it without you! Your donation will save a life!

It is relentless. It has stopped prodding our consciences. It isn’t even an annoyance anymore, it has become another thing that we ignore. We are pulled in dozens of different directions, from family, from friends, from neighbors, from organizations we belong to and those we don’t. We are asked to act politically, environmentally, socially and globally. We should give time, resources and money. Especially money.

And yet.

There are real needs. There are causes worth supporting. Truly, not giving is not an option.

There are demonstrable benefits to being a giver–we feel better about ourselves, we get better about being grateful for what we have, we deepen our friendships and strengthen our communities.

How do we balance? How do we choose?

We pin all the worthwhile causes to a bulletin board and throw darts at it.

We take the first come first served approach.

We work from inside out–give to the causes that affect us personally and then move outward from there.

Honestly, it all works. But, the real trick is to find a system that works for you. One that maximizes your ability to have impact, as well as your sense of personal satisfaction.

Judaism, of course, has something to say about this.

The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah, but that is a poor translation of the word. The root of tzedakah, is tzedek, which means justice. In Judaism, the primary force behind ma’asim tovim (good deeds), is a desire to create a more just society.

If every cause that comes our way has merit, how can we turn any down in good conscience? We can, because we must. Jewish law dictates that one must give 10% of our income to the poor (after taxes). That said, we must not give to the point that we become needy.

Maimonides organized the levels of charity:
Giving begrudgingly
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

It all counts as charity, even giving begrudgingly, but the goal is to create a world where no one has a great need, and indeed, we all support each other in doing the best we can.

Throw that dart. Write that check. It’s worth it. It is always worth it.

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