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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Charity?

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Charity?

What would you do if you had a fortune worth millions?


What would you do with your money if you had a fortune worth millions of dollars?

Here is what Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder chose to do with his: He decided to give it all away to charity, down to the last penny, or Euro.

"My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing," Rabeder, 47, told London's Daily Telegraph.

On the block, or already sold, is his luxury lakeside villa in the Alps, his 42-acre estate in France, his six gliders, and the interior furnishings and accessories business that got him rich in the first place. When every penny of his estimated $4.7 million fortune is gone, he says, he intends to move into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a studio in Innsbruck.

What brought him to his current conclusion? A vacation in Hawaii and gliding trips to South America and Africa left him with feelings of guilt, he said, and the sense that there was a connection between his wealth and the poverty of the people he saw.

Since selling off some of his possessions, with lots more looking for buyers, Rabeder says he feels "free, the opposite of heavy," which was the feeling his wealth gave him.

Would our world be healed if only more people would learn from Rabeder's actions and behave similarly?

Not quite.

Is he a great guy? Definitely! But did he do the right thing? I think not.

To borrow a line from the Kuzari (a medieval book on Jewish philosophy, not a Japanese dish): "The intentions are pure; but the action misguided."

For how will Karl's newfound poverty help the poor? True, his one-off donation will make a difference, but it is precisely that—a one-off.

While he may have successfully rid himself of guilt feelings – after all he is now just as poor as Africa's poor – in the long run, they will continue to go to bed hungry at night.

And while he feels lighter, those suffering in poverty continue to feel just as heavy.

The Talmud tells us: "One should not extravagantly distribute more than one fifth of one's income to charity." I have often struggled to understand (not to follow) the advice of this particular Talmudic statement.

Could it be that the Torah – called Torat Chesed, an "Instruction of Kindness," for introducing kindness to the world, and indeed making the giving of charity compulsory – puts a cap on giving?

But far from a cap, it's more like a tap, channeling good intentions into sustainable worthy actions.

For if everyone were to give everything away there would only be more mouths to feed, not less. Sometimes giving less is (ultimately) giving more.

As such, the way to help the homeless and hungry is not by becoming homeless and hungry oneself, but by feeding and housing those in need like one would oneself.

And instead of becoming poor, moving into a hut, and giving up future possibilities and opportunities to give charity, Karl should grow his business in order to accumulate as much wealth as possible in order to give lots more!

Another point worth mentioning:

"Ver es hut der me'ah, hut der de'ah," says an old Yiddish saying.

In English: Affluence equals influence.

Beyond the money Karl could contribute on his own, as a wealthy man and a symbol of status, he could encourage others to give as well. (The huge effect of celebrity charity on society is well-known—for more on this, see Make Some Noise!)

People are more likely to be swayed by a well-dressed man who lives in a penthouse, than by a pauper living in a decrepit hut in the woods.

It is sometimes easier to die for one's fellow than it is to live life for him.

To sum it up, a powerful urge, however charitable, is like an energetic stallion itching to charge forth unrestrained. But without a rider, its lightening speed can potentially hasten its arrival to the wrong destination.

We need more people like Karl who desire to help the poor, but we must see to it that those altruistic impulses result in the greatest, most wide-reaching and long-lasting effects possible!

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
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kenneth Denison, tx April 21, 2010

charity helping another person to me is the greatest achievement, i taught my skill to others so they could teach others, they were deaf. showing kindness in any way has a positive effect in the world. Reply

Inge Reisinger February 26, 2010

Both is necessary intellect and emotions, exact 50- 50% to feel absolutely right and true Reply

Anonymous Miami, florida via February 25, 2010

Karl Wow rabbi, how valuable is the knowledge that comes from Torah, this information that you have given is very helpful. to me, may many others around the world look for the only source of wisdom and happiness which is TORAH. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, ny February 23, 2010

It's still all about me. The bottom line is, the Torah is telling you to use your intellect and not just go by your emotions. While it may feel good to give everything away, was that your goal to begin with? If it's about feeling good, a good hot bath would do the same. Reply

agnes forner Altenstadt/WN, Germany/Bavaria February 21, 2010

wisdom is needed on how to give charity it does matter jew or non-jew how charity is given and what is done with it.
Too much money may make the needy feel lost what to do with it and may use it for the wrong reasons or there will be fights over it . I think it is always useful to help with self-help aspects. So something can be done for a longer time of period what truly helps the people out.
Surely also educating them is necessary in things and facts of life.
Because sometimes it is a drop of water on a hot stone which leaves nothing for the needy. It is important to get the true facts, beause media also can be trickey with their filming for heart touching moments.
So just giving all of the million is too much and can easily misused. So give the fifth or the tenth and give it again for well minded helping plans in the same area until it rises to keep it up themselves and develop healthy it would be just the best way to do it. Reply

Daniela February 19, 2010

He is a nonjew and he is free to do whatever he wants with his money. However, even if he were a jew, and assuming this does not detract from his obligations (it appears his wife agrees, and his workers are still employed at their usual place with a different owner) he is ordinarily forbidden from giving away more than 1/5 (there are some exceptions) but if it gives him pleasure to give away, he may do so. Even for all of his fortune. Which seems to me the case, he is obviously delighted at the idea. He won't be destitute (a thousand euro a month are enough to live). He has no obligation to work in furnishing, if he prefers to work at his charity. Incidentally, for all those who are so concerned about creating dependency and all that, the money will be used to finance microcredit (ie low-interest or zero-interest small loans). Did you know that the default rate is basically none?
Making people happy is much more fun than shopping! You should try it. Reply

TNewton Seattle, WA Seattle, WA February 18, 2010

Charity and the Poor Most of us will never have to really face the question of having millions to give away.
The question I constantly ask myself is, "What am I do with the funds I have at my disposal?" I've decided to give a lot of my little. For me it is bringing great satisfaction. Prosperity is having enough oneself and having some to give away. Reply

Jean Indianapolis, IN / USA February 17, 2010

Helping Can Hurt Giving money to the poor without educating them as to its value and its power is a little like giving them drugs - the act of charity soon turns into an obligation, with the recipients believing they are entitled rather than being grateful for a hand-up. Over the long run, charity without expectations is dehumanizing, as it creates a culture of dependency. Better to give knowledge, freedom and a sense of personal responsibility than just to give money. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel February 17, 2010

Charity and the Poor No matter how much the poor receive as charitable gifts they will remain poor because they have no means of helping themselves. So we should really be trying to help them help themselves by providing opportunities for them to work and earn a living. But none of the recognized charatible institutions see it this way and for all their good actities and distribution of immediate help, there is no long-term solution offered.
The way for equality of opportunity to be expressed is by access to land (because land is the third factor in production, the others being labor and tools/buildings, both of which can be achieved once land is available).
I want to see some charity that is concerned about freeing up land for use by the poor. Does anybody agree and what Ideas do you have? Reply

Anonymous February 17, 2010

What a brilliant article. Tiferes of Chesed. I shall print it and keep it close by. Reply

Inge Reisinger February 16, 2010

Giving all your money without educating the people who got the money doesn't make sense. It is just like a drop of water on a hot stone. Nothing remains for the future. Reply

Ralph Watchung, nj February 16, 2010

missed the point. Karl made a change in his life. That is a wonderful bold move to make. Karl's actions may inspire others just like his money could. We don't depend on money as much as on good will and inspiration.

Talk about poverty, Karl was the one who went to bed hungry.

btw your article is further inspiration to think about this. That is wonderful in and by itself. Reply

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