The Biblical commandment to give charity (tzedakah in Hebrew) is relevant all year round, but most charities find that 30 percent of their total yearly donations come in December, with 10 percent of those arriving in the last 48 hours of the year.
There are two generally accepted reasons for this substantial increase in last-minute donations. First, Americans want to maximize their end-of-year tax deductions. The second reason is a bit more spiritual: as people are bombarded with consumerism during the holiday season, their better selves awaken and they seek to help those less fortunate.
“The Bible requires people to tithe, to give 10 percent of their net income to tzedakah,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Lipsker, administrator for Colel Chabad, an Israeli charity which has continuously supported the Holy Land’s poor for 230 years.
“So important is this mitzvah (Biblical commandment) that the sages consider helping the poor the most important and holy act one can do, equal to all other commandments combined,” he told Breaking Israel News.
The great medieval Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, popularly known as Rambam, listed eight ways for giving charity from most to least meaningful. The first is the most benevolent and the last still fulfills the mitzvah of charity, but on a much lower level.
The eight ways, from most to least ideal, are as follows:
1. Enable the needy person to become independent and no longer need charity. This can be done by giving them a financial gift, an interest-free loan, engaging in a business partnership, or helping them find employment.
2. Give through an intermediary or respected and trustworthy organization so that the giver does not know who is receiving and the receiver does not know who is giving. This action makes it clear that one is giving charity solely for the sake of God’s will.
3. Giving charity when the giver knows the receiver but the receiver does not know who has given. An example of this would be leaving an envelope of money at a person’s door.
4. Giving charity when the recipient knows the giver but the giver does not know the recipient. There are stories of sages who would walk through poor areas with coins in their frocks. They would throw the frock over their shoulder and the poor would put their hands in the pockets to take coins. In this way, the poor were less shamed at being known by the giver.
5. Giving money into the hand of a poor person before they ask for help. This act is similar to the Patriarch Abraham, who ran towards those passing his tent asking if they needed hospitality and thus saving the ones in need from asking.
6. Giving to a poor person after they have asked for help. For example, if a beggar puts out a hand and one gives them money.
7. Giving less than what the poor person needs, but doing so with a full heart and in a loving, cheerful manner.
8. Giving charity but doing it begrudgingly. Though the tzedakah is still helpful and counted in heaven as fulfilling God’s command, doing so with an unpleasant countenance affects both the giver and receiver in a negative way.
“Biblical edicts are very sensitive to both the giver and receiver striving to avoid, on the one hand, arrogance in the giver and on the other hand, embarrassment of the receiver,” continued Rabbi Lipsker. “Colel Chabad literally helps tens of thousands of needy Israelis throughout the year in the most compassionate and honorable way.
“We help widows, orphans, elderly, families and the sick through our wide network of soup kitchens, specialized training programs, prepaid holiday shopping cards, boxes of food delivered to people’s homes and more.”
The word tzedakah stems from the word tzedek, meaning righteousness. Biblically, giving to the poor is not viewed as a magnanimous act. Rather, it is a duty and a just deed which demonstrates gratefulness for the good which God has bestowed. When one gives at the end of the year, they not only get a worthwhile tax deduction; they also fulfill God’s will.
To give your tax-deductible donation to Israel’s poor through Colel Chabad, please visit here.
This article was written in cooperation with Colel Chabad.