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Giving: What and How


There's more to giving than being nice. The world rotates on its axis, the galaxies and stars continue moving—because of giving. Nothing we own is really ours to begin with—G‑d gives to us so we can give to others.

Giving is a mitzvah and a responsibility. As such, it comes with its own set of dos and don'ts:

The Obligation:

You're walking down the street and someone asks for food. The mitzvah says, you have to give something. If he asks for money, you're allowed to make some inquiries to determine if he's legit. Nothing in your pocket? Show some empathy, provide some kind and uplifting words. In no case can you just keep on walking.

Nothing in your pocket? Show some empathyStandard Jewish practice is to give at least 10% of net income to charity. There's plenty written on what's considered net—and on when tuition fees and other mitzvah-related items can be deducted from the ten percent. Speak with your rabbi about your specific issues.

Since giving is a mitzvah, it doesn't just help others—it lifts you up as well. That's why we keep a pushka (charity box) on prominent display in home and office. Just drop a few coins in the pushka every so often, at least once a day.

The Recipient:

Give tzedakah (charity) to the needy, Torah schools, Jewish institutions, and/or humanitarian causes. A family member who is in difficult financial straits takes precedence over non-family. Likewise, local poor and charitable organizations take precedence over their faraway counterparts. And charitable causes in Israel take precedence over (non-local) charities in the Diaspora.

The Upshot:

No other mitzvah evokes as powerful a divine response as tzedakah. It makes sense: you take care of others, and G‑d takes care of you. Our sages taught that tzedakah brings atonement and protects against harsh heavenly decrees.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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S U.K. November 17, 2016

The heart and soul Giving gifts, kind words or charity comes from the heart and soul, no questions asked no specific reason to do it. These are actions of love for one another and the greater humanity. When we stop and think why people are undeserving, then this is from HaShem as reminder for us: reflection and introspection! Reply

Anonymous July 28, 2013

This is a holy website! Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma April 17, 2013

a small add Maybe all that I am or every need be, is an expression of soul. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 17, 2013

a huge subject this is the endless subject, and like the universe, we can all delineate so many kinds of giving. I wonder why this is coming back now, since I don't see a 2013 entry, but it comes at a good time, as we in Boston just experienced terror, at the finish line of the Marathon. And so many, came to the aid of others, in the medical tents, by bringing people to care, and by themselves, bending to care for them.

Acts of mercy are for thanks, for MERCI. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn Park April 16, 2013

Family first, then the people outside your circle.

The matter of gratitude and usage is between the recipient and God Himself.

We don't give to make ourselves 'feel good', rather it is a double blessing, once to us and once to the recipient. But if we give to enrich others and impoverish ourselves, that's just silly. Reply

Rabbi Zalman Nelson Safed, Israel March 15, 2012

To: Guidance for the mitzvah You make excellent points, however, this article only touches on the basics of giving charity (which is why it's in the Mitzvah Minute category). For more depth and a more thorough handling of the subject see the halachic discussion of the Rambam here on our site, in the Laws of Matnot Anyiim, Ch. 7 halacha 6. It's in the texts and writing section. Also see here

It's interesting to note that there in the Rambam's discussion of charity he first explains at length the core point: the importance of helping all Jews. Only then does he address making inquiries before donating.

Here's another angle. Let's say you give charity to someone who uses it for bad things. That was their choice and you've still fulfilled the mitzvah of charity. After you gave, it's between the recipient and G-d. And if you know they will use the money poorly, consider giving clothes or food.

Furthermore, the fact that the Torah tells us to check first (except on Purim where we give to anyone who asks), means that it's not personal, rather part of the way we fulfill the mitzvah Reply

Anonymous marshfield, ma March 13, 2012

Giving There are alll kinds of giving and receipt. When a grandparet gives of themself to their grandchildren, then when this is not received as a gift, that can be painful. And I think giving as they say, begins at home. So for whom goes the message in such a case of hurt. I think in giving we are also, not always received, and worse, we experience hurt.

There are so many iterations of hurt, and even gifting, as in our time, our love, can make one wonder. Why this story? Why that story? And why when we gift then, are we so subject at times to great hurt. Reply

Anonymous Toms River, NJ USA March 12, 2012

Give From The Heart Give joyfully from your heart knowing always that giving is a blessing. Concern about too many possibilities , "What if this?" or, "What if that?" only serves to undermine the entire spiritual aspect of acts of mercy and compassion. Give... and feel blessed by the opportunity. Reply

Jaacov Medford, MA March 11, 2012

Guidance for the mitzvah in today's society It is said, 'No one should have to pay with his dignity for another’s assistance'; however we are being told here that we can make inquiries to determine if someone is legitimate. Doesn't this remove any merit in the action? Specifically, in the world current sad state of where lies are more common than the truth; even if I asked do I know its the truth? I struggle with this as I do my best to give as I can but honestly I am very apprehensive when strangers ask me regardless of the story they give me. In a way I feel I would be supporting their negative habits and in my giving their would be no positive benefit?
Any thoughts or guidance would be appreciated or how others deal with this as well Reply

Anonymous Toms River December 29, 2010

Giving To Everyone? Be kind to everyone you meet everywhere.

Rodolfo Carlos Rabonza Sherman Oaks, CA February 16, 2010

justice What we give to the needy is rightfully theirs. Our little excess in resources gives us an opportunity to practice tzedaka. It is in itself a reward. By heavenly decree, you are assigned to give this money to that person. Being assigned to do that is just a great merit.

If one does not respond to this assignment, then this opportunity will be given to another and thus merit the reward for the righteous act. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 12, 2010

Tzedakah There are many ways to give tzedaka. I do believe that there are times we cannot give to everyone who crosses our path, and yet, our obligation, our deepest want, might be to give.
Sometimes it's overwhelming and we simply feel bereft. I think it's the motive force that is important, namely, when we consciously search ourselves, and feel about every request, and wrestle with this, that it is in that wrestling with that still small voice, that God resides and that is the mandate, namely the angst, that the question itself is hanging, to give, or not, to give. And a feeling not of guilt but sadness when we don't, and hope that person will make it through, that divine Providence will lend that helping hand. We do what we can, but we cannot do for everyone. This is the struggle within. Reply

Hariprasad Bhusal Thane West, India February 9, 2010

Mitzvah Minute When I become successful in practising Mitzvah and Tzedakah I feel that I am a part of the solution otherwise I feel sorry. Reply

Yohanon via November 7, 2008

Tzedakah - the word "Give tzedakah (charity) to the needy..."

Tzedakah is NOT "charity." It is "justice." In the case of someone in need, it is the person's right to assistance and it is not our right to withhold assistance.

Ram"bam tells us how to give assistance and the order of distribution (i.e., family first, then extended family, > community > etc.) Reply

Bartholemew winnipeg, mb.,ca. September 23, 2008

tithe Thanks for that article on tithing it has been an on going discusion with my wife about how much we are supposed to tithe ....
Net vs. Gross income .

Now we can put an end to this ...thank you again Reply

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