Well this is nothing new. I often take part in online conversations with people, typically the conversations range from which is true creation or evolution, the supernatural, aliens, poverty, and any number of political and or social discussions that can happen online. Lets face it, if it can be discussed, you will find a thread, a chat room, message board, or whatever you can imagine on any subject you want to find.
So tonight the topic was about poverty, and feeding the poor. Along the way, some interesting points of discussion were brought up. Someone asked if this group attempted to save the ego of those who asked for help. To which the response was they attempted to do so. Knowing how soup kitchens work, at least in this area, I asked if they attempted to make accommodations for those with medical conditions and for religious adherence. Surprisingly they make accommodations for religious adherence when possible, and also attempt to do so for people with medical conditions. However, they can only work within the scope of which they are given.
The one speaker then went biblical on everyone, quoting Leviticus, and I just mentioned I was a Rabbi, and that it should be common knowledge what the Bible says about charity. To be honest, I did not think I would have comments directed my way, but they were. I was asked about tzedakah on a local level to eliminate poverty on a national level. Now I understand that the bulk of people will not be aware of that tzedakah is. And to be fair, in my attempt to try and keep my religious views separate on this blog, I do feel the urge to address at least this concept now.
Basically, tzedakah is charity. Well, not really. You see the word tzedakah is actually righteousness or really when it all washes out, simply doing the right thing. What I do here, what I strive to do elsewhere is not righteous, nor is it charity. I do my share of both, but what I do here is Tikkun Olam, when I give to someone, I am repairing their world, while trying to repair my own world.
But within charity there are several levels of which charity pertains within my religious and philosophical beliefs. Many people actually ascribe to these notions without realizing it, and one need not be Jewish to fall within these levels.
When it comes to charity, I do not feel money is the only works one can get into. Your time, your knowledge, everything else you can offer someone when combined with money offer more than any one thing alone. But basically here are the levels of charity as according to Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, lets see where you fall for the most part.
When you give grudgingly to someone, which is considered the least honorable for yourself and the person you are giving to. You aren't giving to this person or group because you want to, you are giving because you feel forced to. Most likely someone guilted you into it, and charity should never be given if you are forced to feel guilty for not, but lets face it, if you feel guilty for not giving to a charity or helping someone, you have some serious issues.
Now the Tanakh says you should give between 10-20% of what you have in a combination of time and money to those in need, but what you do give in terms of time and money is willingly done. Anything less is not very honorable. However, I take exception to this notion. Look, we all have obligations, and by no means do I consider anything in the Bible to be written in blood. It is meant to be a guide, albeit a bloody hate inspired guide that has human hand prints all over it.
If you have to be asked for charity, you are still not doing it entirely correct, but just the same, you were asked, and you help. Again, you might not always know that someone is in need until they ask for help. It isn't painfully clear these days who is in need, who is not. When I was homeless, working a pay nothing job, you would have never known I was in need of help.
Next on the list is when you take it upon yourself to help those you know to be poor, without them asking for help. This is where many people will fall. People like Sharon Navarrette and her son Santana fall into this group. They volunteer at various places to help the poor. Serving food, making food and taking it to them. They try to help.
Following that is when the person who is being given charity knows who the donor is, but the donor does not know them. Basically, it is equivalent to me walking up to someone famous and begging money and getting it. But this was considered more honorable than the others. The truth is, outside of the first example of charity, all of these are pretty honorable up to this point. Its like number 8 followed by number 3 and then number two.
In this instance you give, but what you give, and who you are remain unknown to the recipient. Like when I give to a bell ringer. This is where the many people fall into charity. We give, completely anonymously, without reward or knowledge that we have even participated.
The next level is when you give money to someone you do not know, and they do not know who you are. This is a hard level to get into because lets face it, we do not often see complete strangers showing up, and another stranger just giving them some money or some knowledge to fix their situation.
The highest level of charity, and this is where I wish I was, along with this nation and world, is when you stop a person from becoming impoverished. Truthfully, this can be gifted in a dignified manner of choice, perhaps a loan, helping someone find a good job or even start them in their own job. Really this is the optimal path of charity, because it keeps them from becoming dependent on charity.
But I say this with a huge disclaimer, not all of these are the right way to do charity. As I mentioned, outside of the very first one given, begrudgingly giving to someone else, these are all the correct ways to help with a charity. The fact is, if you can give money, you should. But if you can give of your time, you should do that as well. But when you can offer both your time and your money, you are doing the most for someone. But not all charity requires both. When I was in a tent, I needed money and a job. If I had both at the same time, enough to be out of the tent, into a home, the job would have come up quickly, because I would have been able to repair my credit quickly enough. There is one last thing, and I do not agree with it, but most Rabbis will tell you this. If a person does not care about themselves, you are not obligated to assist them. This is an error in thinking, no matter how you wish to view it. Sometimes people simply stop caring about themselves, because they have become that damaged. Part of Tikkun Olam, rebuilding the world, requires that we rebuild people within it, and that can only be done if we take the time to invest in the person who no longer cares about themselves.