Dear Readers,

Have you heard of the Giving Pledge?

Created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, some of the wealthiest philanthropists around the world committed to give away the majority of their wealth to “help the world become a much better place.”

Warren Buffett committed to give 99 percent of his wealth but humbly stated, “Measured by dollars, this commitment is large. In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day (and) relinquish the use of funds that would otherwise benefit their own families. … In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99 percent pledge.”

Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa says, “Give Him from His Own, for you and your possessions are His” (Avot 3:8).

The word tzedakah is commonly translated as “charity.” Really, it means “uprightness” or “justice.” We may think that we are being charitable with our money when we gift it to the poor, but G‑d has given us our material possessions specifically so that we can share it. We are merely doing justice. G‑d gives us directly by enabling us to be His agent in giving to the poor.

This also applies to our time, talents and resources, as the Mishna makes clear: “for you and your possessions are His.” G‑d grants us special talents and capabilities, but wants us to use these to make His world a better place. Humility doesn’t mean being oblivious to the gifts we were given, but rather realizing that these all come from G‑d and are therefore not a source of personal pride, but something that needs to be used for G‑d’s purpose.

The Talmud (Taanit 24a) tells a story about Rabbi Elazar, who lived his life with this ideal.

“Whenever the charity collectors would see Elazar of the village of Birta, they would hide from him since any money Elazar had with him he would give away, and they didn’t want to take it all.

One day, Elazar went to the market to purchase what he needed for his daughter’s dowry. The charity collectors saw him and hid.

He ran after them, ‘Tell me in what mitzvah you are engaged?’

They answered, ‘We are collecting for the wedding of orphans.’

He said, ‘They take precedence over my daughter.’

He took everything he had and gave them. He was left with one single dinar, with which he bought wheat. He returned to his house and threw it into the granary.

Elazar’s wife asked her daughter, ‘What has your father bought?’

She answered, ‘Whatever he brought, he threw into the granary.’

She went to the granary and saw that it was miraculously so full of wheat that the door couldn’t even open.

Elazar’s daughter went to the study hall and said to her father, ‘Come and see what the Almighty who loves you has performed for you … .”

G‑d doesn’t ask us to give away all our possessions or anywhere near 99 percent (unless one is very wealthy, we give 10 percent, or if we are generous, 20 percent). But when we take care of others, G‑d makes sure to take care of us.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW