Monday, October 25, 2010

The Eight Levels of Charity

Rambam: Hilchos Matanos Aniyim: Laws of Gifts to the Poor

Level One: A Helping Hand
There are eight levels of charity - each one higher than the next. The greatest form of charity, which is unsurpassed by any other, is to give a helping hand to a Jew who is on the verge of financial ruin. This may be accomplished by giving him a gift or a loan, by entering into a partnership with him, or by providing him with gainful employment. Any of these efforts should be undertaken to strengthen this person before he would have to ask for charity. This is what the Torah means when it says: "If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him so that he can live with you" [Leviticus 25:35] In other words, support him before he falls and becomes needy.

Upholding a poor person to save him from falling below his level has priority over supporting a wealthy person from slipping from his level of prosperity, even if the wealthy person is a neighbour or a relative [Ahavas Chesed 1 note 25]

The Chofetz Chaim [Ahavas Chesed 21:1] says that the conclusion of this verse - "so that he can live with you" can be explained by reference to the verse: "The rich man and the pauper meet: Hashem is the maker of them all" [Proverbs 22:2]. The Sages expound: "When the poor man approaches the rich man and pleads "Support me!" - if the rich man supports the poor, well and good. If not, then Hashem is the maker of them all. The very same G-d who made this man rich, can turn around and make him poor!

Thus, says the Chofetz Chaim, whenever a poor man approaches you, you should imagine that your own finances are also insecure. And it really is so, because if you do not respond positively to the pauper, your financial position may collapse like his, Heaven forbid. If, however, you do help him to stabilize his position, both of you together will endure and prosper, thereby fulfilling the Scriptural pledge, so that he can live with you.

Sefer Chassidim writes than an excellent form of charity is when the poor man attempts to sell an article that no-one wants to buy, but the rich man nevertheless purchases it from him. This is a supreme act of charity because the pauper does not feel that he has received alms.

Level Two: Double Anonymity
The next level, a step lower, is to give a charitable gift to the poor in such a way that the donor is unaware of the identity of the recipient, nor does the recipient know his benefactor. This is pure charity (lishmah) performed for its own sake. An example of this was Lishkas Chasholm - "The chamber of the Discreet" - in the Temple. The tzaddikim would deposit money into it quietly, and the poor sons of good families supported themselves from it discreetly [Mishnah, Shekalim 5:6]. The closest thing to this (today) would be the community charity chest. However, one should not contribute to the community charity chest unless he knows that the person in charge of it is as trustworthy and wise and capable of administering it properly as Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon [Bava Basra 10b].

Level Three: Incognito Benefactor
The next level, a step lower, is when the donor knows to whom he is giving, but the poor man is unaware of the identity of his benefactor.

This means that when a gabbai tzedakah is not available to serve as a middle-man and the donor must personally allocate the charity, he should still attempt to deliver it in secrecy. He can, for example, throw the money into the poor man's house or send it with a messenger or a mailman who will not divulge who sent the money.

The Talmud [Kesubos 67b] relates how Mar Ukva was accustomed to secretly placing a sum of money on a poor man's doorstep every day. One day the poor recipient decided to discover the identity of his mysterious benefactor. The man waited behind his front door until Mar Ukva and his wife approached. When the poor man flung open the door, Mar Ukva and his wife fled at top speed lest their identity be discovered. In order to elude the poor man who was running after them, they both dashed into a burning furnace to hide, saying that it was preferable to throw oneself into an inferno than to embarrass a poor recipient.

Level Four: Unknown Recipient
The next level, a step lower, is when the recipient knows from who he is receiving, while the giver is unaware of the identity of the recipient. This was the practice of certain great Sages who would wrap money in their cloak and throw it over their shoulders behind them so that the poor could take the money without being seen, thus avoiding embarrassment.

Another example of this level of giving is described in the Talmud [Berachos 58b] regarding R' Chana bat Chanilai who left bags of grain outside his home every night during years of famine for the benefit of those indigents who were too embarrassed to personally beg for food in the daytime.

This level of giving is a degree lower than the preceding one because here the poor person feels somewhat embarrassed and beholden to his patron. This method is, however, preferable to the following level, because the poor man is spared the need to confront his benefactor face to face.

Level Five: Giving Before Being Asked
The next level, a step lower, is for the donor to present the money directly to the poor man, but to give it to him before he asks.

When a confrontation between the donor and the poor recipient is unavoidable, one should make a special effort to enhance his mitzvah by giving before being asked. With this sensitivity and kindness one emulates the ways of the Almighty Who says "And it will be that before they call I will answer" (Isaiah 65:24)

Level Six: A Generous Response
The next level, a step lower, is to give an appropriate amount to the poor after being asked.

Level Seven: Bestowing Words of Comfort: (11 blessings)
The next level, a step lower, is to give the poor man less than the appropriate amount, but to give with a smile and a pleasant disposition.

Sometimes, even a person who is usually a generous donor, is incapable of giving a generous amount. Embarrassed by his inability to respond in a dignified way, this donor may feel that it is better to give nothing at all. That is incorrect. Better to give a small amount with sincere apologies and regret than to give nothing at all, thus losing the mitzvah and depriving the poor of everything.

Even if a person is unable to give anything because of his own poverty, he can still offer encouraging words of comfort to the unfortunate collector. The Talmud [Bava Basra 9b] teaches that when a person offers kind words, even without any financial aid, Heaven bestows eleven blessings upon him. Encouraging the poor man should be a primary objective in giving tzedaka.

Level Eight: Giving With Misgivings
The next level, a step lower, is to give charity with sadness.

The very lowest level of tzedakah is to give with hidden, unexpressed feelings of reluctance.

If the donor openly expresses his annoyance and dislike of giving, then he loses the entire merit of his tzedakah, even if he gave a large, generous amount. This type of callous contribution is not even considered among the Rambam's eight levels of charity, for it is actually a sin. The giver transgresses the prohibition "Let your heart not feel bad when you give him" [Deut 15:10]

Source:  Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer "The Tzedakah Treasury" Published by Artscroll

No comments: