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Charity During Times of Economic Difficulty

Charity During Times of Economic Difficulty


It is a sad fact: when the economy is suffering, hardest hit are charitable organizations, and the needy people who desperately rely on the services they provide. This at a time when these charitable causes have to expand their services to accommodate a sadly growing clientele.

In the U.S., nearly 94 percent of nonprofit fundraisers recently surveyed said that the economy is currently having a negative effect on fundraising. In Britain, one in three organizations expects to lay off staff within months, and corporate donations have fallen by twenty percent.

Though unfortunate, this begs the question: is it indeed inappropriate to scale back on charitable disbursements when times are tough, when we are curtailing our spending in so many other lifestyle areas?

That depends on how we view our contributions.

Ultimately we are G‑d's bankers; He entrusts us with an additional sum—which we are meant to disperse to charitable causesThe Rebbe once explained that "charity" is actually an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew word tzedakah, the age-old word used to describe financial assistance provided to the needy. The literal meaning of tzedakah is "righteousness." It's simply the right and just thing to do; whereas the word charity denotes an act that goes beyond the call of duty, an elective though praiseworthy act.

Whose Money?

According to Jewish tradition, a minimum of 10% of our net earnings are earmarked for tzedakah. It is our belief that ultimately we are G‑d's bankers; in addition to the monies intended for our personal use, He entrusts us with an additional sum—which we are meant to disperse to charitable causes.

G‑d created a world of givers and takers. And while He provides for all His creations, he desired that His beneficence reach the "takers" via the wallets of the givers.

When doing so, we are not going beyond the call of duty; we are merely faithfully discharging our responsibility.

"Charity" is a luxury; during difficult times we cut back in this area. Tzedakah, on the other hand – i.e the 10% that we donate – was never ours in the first place; and delivering it to its intended recipients is certainly not a luxury that can be scaled back.

(It should be noted, however, that a person who has only enough to cover his or her most rudimentary needs is exempt from this tithe.)

G‑d's Test

The following is adapted from a letter the Rebbe once wrote to a veteran businessman who had fallen on hard times:

Undoubtedly we must view this is a test from G‑d. Though He knows that the Jewish heart is always open, and at all times ready to heed the call of Torah and mitzvot, still, He tests us in order to satisfy the reluctant-to-believe angels of the Heavenly Court.

G‑d therefore says to them: "See, despite the natural tendency to decrease in tzedakah when business is not as it once was, here is a wise Jew, who understands that this is only an attempt to test him. He also understands that when he will withstand the test – and will then understand the real intent behind it all – not only will his business be as prosperous as beforehand, but it will be better than before..."

Our Test

King Solomon says in Proverbs (19:17): "He who is gracious to a poor man is [in fact merely] extending a loan to G‑d, and He will repay him his reward."

All tzedakah that one gives is repaid in full – with plenty of "interest" too – during one's lifetimeOne never loses by giving tzedakah. Whereas the reward for virtually all mitzvot is granted in the World-to-Come, all tzedakah that one gives is repaid in full – with plenty of "interest" too – during his or her lifetime.

Normally it is forbidden to test G‑d (as per Deuteronomy 6:16). Practically this means that one may not do a mitzvah with the expectation that G‑d will reward the act by fulfilling a particular need.

Tzedakah is the exception. As the Prophet Malachi proclaimed (Malachi 3:10): "Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says the Lord of Hosts, [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it."

Accordingly our Sages say (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 4a): "One who says, 'I am giving money to charity on the condition that my son recovers from his illness,' is a righteous person!"

True Wealth

A story is told about Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer, a seventeenth century scholar, who was ordered by the German-Roman Kaiser to present an accounting of all that he owned. When Rabbi Wertheimer submitted his financial ledger, the Kaiser accused him of lying and treason, for he had personally gifted Rabbi Wertheimer a castle that alone was more valuable than the sum total on his ledger.

Rabbi Wertheimer explained that the Kaiser had asked for an accounting of all that he owned, whereas the castle had been a gift that could be revoked.

"Then what is recorded here?" demanded the Kaiser.

"This is my tzedakah," explained Reb Shimshon. "This is truly mine, even the Kaiser can not take this away."

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Anonymous May 16, 2015

Thank you. Reply

Jason Washington July 21, 2014

Ahh, to sit in the seat of judgment.... Hey, everybody, I have an idea! Let's go to a religious website, on a posting about giving to the poor, and make comments about why it's bad, or foolish to do so! It will be great fun!! We can justify to ourselves our own selfish & cynical nature. We can say that laws of God (laws of nature--on a higher level than what we perceive) are WRONG, just because we say so! We can put on display, for everyone to see, just how petty, selfish, and foolish we are! Reply

czar Philippines December 20, 2013

Discounted Service How about if a doctor is giving discounts to his services to the needy, will he still be required to give 10% of his earnings? Reply

Rohit Thombre Pune, India September 30, 2013

Tithes Dear Rabbi,
I 'm Christian and this is my testimony that when me and my family was suffering great debts and financial crunch even in that situation I made a decision to give tithes. The results was I got a good job, G-d provided me a vehicle for commuting. I got salary hike during my probation period of job, even good health to me and my family members... Our G-d is an awesome G-d. Reply

Blue Claremont, NH September 3, 2011

G-d is Good, Thank you I came to this site while looking for a recipe.
A Kosher recipe was offered and I followed that link to view the recipe.
I am a Christian and I found the information about why G-d tests us to be very useful.
I tithe and although I will truthfully say I am by no means wealthy I know G-d blesses faithfulness in tithing. I have been tithing faithfully for years and when others around me were suffering financial losses the money came in to help me keep my head above water. Despite being laid off for almost 2 years (I am back to work now, Praise Him) and coming very close to losing my home I now am on my way out of financial trouble.
I truly believe that had I not been tithing I would have lost my home. I also believe that having those financial troubles was a test of my commitment to tithing. When things were the toughest and money the scarcest I took a leap of faith and decided to tithe on my gross income instead of my net income because I needed gross blessings not net blessings. Reply

Johannes Pardes Melbourne, Australia July 8, 2011

Reply to Tuvia of Brooklyn Indeed Malachi says to test God on the tzedakah, I personally have and know people who have given more than what they should have. Given into the red. Not even for the sake of testing just out of love for G-d. I have NEVER seen ill come of their decision. Only blessing. I have only experienced such blessings from my giving.

One of the best weeks of my life was when I lived to my limits and gave as much of everything as I could. I know these principles work. The Tanach is true, G-d is Faithful!

If any who read this possess doubt, do as Malachi says, test and give until it hurts. Or just your 10% if you're not adventurous. You will SEE that the words are true. You will be blessed. Don't argue or think about it.. DO IT and your disputes and doubts will be settled! G-d is gracious and faithful. If you live the words, you will understand the words. Doubt will be replaced by a deeper love for G-d. Don't take my word. TRY IT! Reply

Tuvia Brooklyn, NY April 4, 2011

the test of tzadakah I listen carefully to the words -- one is permitted to test G-d on tzedakah.

What is one to do if say they give a great deal, but then wind up broke, say through a money manager who is a crook?

In this instance, it appears that G-d "failed" the test?

Either the words Malachi states about testing are specific, real, and verifiable, or it should not be presented as a challenge to "confirm" that G-d is real, or that Malachi and Tanach are telling the truth.

But if a person gives and winds up broke due to a crook -- it would cast doubt on the emmes of Tanach.

So again: if the test does not work out -- if a person gives and their finances are ruined, what do you tell them? The test is an exaggeration? It is not meant literally? Even though you are permitted to test G-d here, you should not do it?

Thank you. Reply

Douglas Denver, CO February 2, 2011

CTED I know this sounds blunt, but the G-d probably doesn't want 10 to 15 percent, just what you can. In other words, within your means. As to who. Look around you and ask yourself "who has helped me, or those close to me, in times of need. Mine were simple. The Rocky Mountain Adoption Exchange for helping me find my "forever family." The Student Conservation Association for teaching kids about the enviroment. And Chabad. org for teaching me about my people and our heritage. As for corperations, they do as well, for other resons. Reply

Diam Clay san diegp, usa February 1, 2011

TIith When one gives to a charity on always wonders where is the money going. Do people in need get it, or do the people running the program get the lions share. If G-d gives us even more back why should we care... But one does want to do good with what we give. Reply

Alexandra Denver, Co, USA November 28, 2010

CHARITY IN TIMES OF ECONOMIC DIFFICULTY I have always wondered why charities ask for money from individuals. If, like "Feed The Children", they need money for gas to transport donated food--why shouldn't the GAS COMPANIES donate the gas? If medical treatment is the goal of the charity, why shouldn't medical-supply companies, (as well as doctors), donate their supplies and services? Why should INDIVIDUALS have to give money without knowing EXACTLY where the money's going? I give $7 a year to the DAV, for personal reasons. That's all. I feel good doing it...but I can't afford any more, nor do I wish to give any more. If I had more money, I might change my mind. The Jewish "obligation" to give 10-15% of one's income to charity is WRONG! People today don't want to be "obligated" -- to do anything! Reply

louise leon long pond, PA November 28, 2010

charity When I give of myself, I give the truest charity. Money is only one easy type of charity. Reply

Alexandra Denver, Co, USA August 5, 2010

I find myself wondering, if charity is SO important, why do not the providers necessary for the charity to function, give charity (also). For instance, for Meals on Wheels, (both Kosher and non-Kosher) -- why don't gasoline companies donate the gas needed to drive the trucks for this charity? Why don't the food companies donate the food? Why not an all-volunteer delivery force? Why must ALL charities rely on donations from outsiders? And why, once someone has given to one charity, is their mailbox suddenly filled to overflowing by pleas from other charities?
Do all the Rothschilds donate from 10-15% of their yearly income to charity? Do other rich non-religious Jews? I have heard the best clothing, etc. donated to the Salvation Army usually is taken by SA officials.Being human, I'm sure SOME Jewish charity people must do the same. How is one to know? I give $7 a year to the Disabled American Veterans, in honour of my father.
And that's it! I just would feel foolish giving more. Reply

Naftali Silberberg, Editorial Team August 4, 2010

To Anonymous from Tacoma Ten percent is given from net income. There are also other expenses (such as certain mitzvah expenses, business expenses, and even household expenses) that can possibly be "charity-deductible." Some of these deductions should only be employed in case of extreme need.

The rules are quite complex -- I'd advise you to speak to your rabbi about your particular situation. Reply

Anonymous tacoma, wa August 4, 2010

10% of Gross, Net Gross or net Is the sum 10% after the bills are paid? Reply

Abraham Hoschander, Esq. Brooklyn, New York July 28, 2010

Rabbi Shimshon Wertheim This Rabbi Shimshon Wertheim(er) in the story was the Greatest Torah Sage around the year 1700 as well as the wealthiest Jew of his day. The Chavos Yair said about him that "since the days of Rav Ashi there was no one who possessed Torah and secular greatness in one individual as did Rav Shimshon." Reply

Anonymous via July 20, 2010

charity Sorry , but scaling back on Tzedaka (charity) during hard times makes sense to me. For one simple example, all the people who got burnt by Madoff for the most part have money. Do you expect them to give tzedakka in amounts like before? And some got so broken that they have their own pity.
I am not advocating to chop charity out altogether. I am advocating that context and exceptions balance the views presented. Reply

Gershon Garber Maitland, FL November 5, 2009

Ask and you Shall receive Beautiful article. I recently relocated to another area, and of course moved in apartments closest to synagogue. The choice to relocate caused me to give up my job in my former city. While looking for a job, it was difficult to pay dues to my synagogue, but I made $18 contributions, sometimes $54, and sometimes $90. I didn't really have the funds to do this, but I felt obligated to my new Chabad House for welcoming me into their congregation. As it turns out, G-d has blessed me with a career here and the potential income will more than repay the small contributions I made to my synagogue. My father always taught, "Charity begins at home." And, he is right. However, I could not pray amongst my new congregation without giving what I was comfortable with (even uncomfortable at times). Truly, your article hit home. Reply

Menachem Posner for March 8, 2009

RE: Tzedakah Yes, this is indeed found in the “Laws of Gifts to the Poor” 10:2, where he writes that “a person never becomes poor from tzedakah, and no evil thing or harm comes because of it.” This assertion is based on a number of verses in the Torah. Reply

Anonymous East Northport, NY/USA March 6, 2009

tzedakah Is it true that the Rambam said that tzedakah has never made anyone poor? Reply

Anonymous February 8, 2009

Charity during difficult times. I remember many years ago, close friends of ours were having financial difficulties. In fact they had an overdraft at the bank for many thousands of dollars which they didn't even know how they would repay. The husband and wife decided "We must praise G-d for the difficult times as well as for the easy times".
With much difficulty they managed to get together 10% of the amount owing to the bank, and give it to Tzedoko."
Thank G-d, they were soon able to repay their loan to the bank, and G-d continued to allow them to give tzedoko joyfully and expansively.
This is a true story that took place over 25 years ago. Reply

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