1

We are obligated to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of charity to a greater extent than all [other] positive commandments,1 because charity is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Abraham,2 our patriarch, as [Genesis 18:19] states: "I have known him, because he commands his children... to perform charity." The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand except through charity, as [Isaiah 54:14] states: "You shall be established through righteousness." And Israel will be redeemed solely through charity, as [ibid. 1:27] states: "Zion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through charity."

2

A person will never become impoverished from giving charity. No harm nor damage will ever be caused because of charity,3 as [ibid. 32:17] states: "And the deed of charity is peace." Everyone who is merciful evokes mercy from others, as [Deuteronomy 13:18] states: "And He shall grant you mercy and shower mercy upon you and multiply you." Whenever a person is cruel and does not show mercy, his lineage is suspect,4 for cruelty is found only among the gentiles, as [Jeremiah] 3:42] states: "They are cruel and will not show mercy."5

The entire Jewish people and all those who attach themselves to them are as brothers, as [Deuteronomy 14:1] states: "You are children unto God your Lord." And if a brother will not show mercy to a brother, who will show mercy to them? To whom do the poor of Israel lift up their eyes? To the gentiles who hate them and pursue them? Behold their eyes are pointed to their brethren alone.

3

Anyone who turns his eyes away from [giving] charity is described as being "rebellious" like someone who worships false divinities is described as "rebellious, as [Deuteronomy 13:14] states with regard to the worship of false divinities: "Rebellious men went out." And with regard to a person who turns his eyes away from [giving] charity, [ibid. 15:9] states: "Be careful, lest a rebellious thought arise in your heart." Such a person is also called "wicked," as [Proverbs 12:10] states: "The mercies of the wicked are cruel." And he is called a sinner, as [Deuteronomy, loc. cit.,] states: "And he shall cry out against you to God and you will be deemed as sinning." The Holy One, blessed be He, is close to the outcry of the poor, as it is written:6 "You hear the outcry of the poor." Therefore one must be careful with regard to their outcry, for a covenant has been established with them, as [Exodus 22:26] states: "When he will cry out to Me, I will listen, for I am compassionate."

4

Whenever a person gives charity to a poor person with an unpleasant countenance and with his face buried in the earth, he loses and destroys his merit7even if he gives him 1000 gold pieces. Instead, he should give him with a pleasant countenance and with happiness, commiserating with him about his troubles, as [Job 30:25] states: "Did I not weep for those who face difficult times; did not my soul feel sorrow for the destitute?" And he should speak to him words of sympathy and comfort, as [ibid. 29:13] states: "I would bring joy to a widow's heart."

5

If a poor person asks one for a donation and he has nothing to give him, he should conciliate him with words.8 It is forbidden to scold a poor person or to raise one's voice against him while shouting, because his heart is broken and crushed, and [Psalms 51:19] states: "God will not scorn a broken and crushed heart." And [Isaiah 57:15 describes as Divine the attribute of] "reviv[ing] the spirit of the lowly and revitalize[ing] the heart of the crushed." Woe unto he who shames the poor, woe be he! Instead, one should be like a father to him, both in mercies and in words, as [Job 29:16] states: "I am a father to the destitute."

6

A person who compels others to give charity and motivates them to do so receives a greater reward than the person who actually gives, as [alluded to by Isaiah 32:17]: "And the deed9 of charity is peace." With regard to the collectors of charity and the like can be applied [the words of praise, Daniel 12:3]: "Those who bring merit to the many are like the stars."

7

There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other. The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him,10 or finding him work so that his hand will be fortified so that he will not have to ask others [for alms].11 Concerning this [Leviticus 25:35] states: "You shall support him, the stranger, the resident, and he shall live among you." Implied is that you should support him before he falls and becomes needy.

8

A lower [level] than this is one who gives charity to the poor without knowing to whom he gave and without the poor person knowing from whom he received. For this is an observance of the mitzvah for its sake alone.12 This [type of giving was] exemplified by the secret chamber that existed in the Temple. The righteous would make donations there in secret and poor people of distinguished lineage would derive their livelihood from it in secret.

A level close to this is giving to a charity fund.13 A person should not give to a charity fund unless he knows that the person managing it is faithful, wise, and capable of administering it in a proper manner as Rebbe Chananya ben Tradyon was.14

9

A lower level than that is an instance when the giver knows to whom he is giving, but the poor person does not know from whom he received. An example of this were the great Sages who would go in secret and throw money into the doorways of the poor.15 This is a worthy way of giving charity and it is a good quality [to express] if the trustees of the charitable fund are not conducting themselves appropriately. 16

10

A lower level than that is an instance when the poor person knows from whom he took, but the donor does not know to whom he gave. An example of this were the great Sages who would bundle coins in a sheet and hang them over their shoulders and the poor would come and take them so that they would not be embarrassed.17

11

A lower level than that is giving [the poor person] in his hand before he asks.18

12

A lower level than that is giving him after he asks.

13

A lower level than this is giving him less than what is appropriate, but with a pleasant countenance.

14

A lower level than that is giving him with sadness.

15

Great sages would give a p'rutah to a poor person19 before every prayer service20 and then they would pray,21 as [implied by Psalms 17:15]: "I will see Your countenance in righteousness."22

16

A person who gives money to his sons and daughters who are past the age of majority23 and whom he is not obligated to support in order to teach the males Torah and to direct the females in a course of upright path so that they will not become objects of derision and similarly one who gives food to his father and his mother24 is included among [those who give] charity.25 Indeed, it is a very important charity, for precedence is established on one's degree of closeness.26

Anyone who gives food and drink to the poor and orphans at his table,27he will call out to God and [God] will answer him and he will derive pleasure from Him, as [Isaiah 58:9] states: "Then you will call out and God will answer."28

17

Our Sages commanded29 that the poor and orphans should be members of a person's household rather than servants.30 This is preferable for him to employ these people and thus enable the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob benefit from his possessions rather than the descendants of Cham. Whoever increases [the number of] servants in his possession adds sin and transgression to the world every day.31 [Conversely,] if the poor are members of one's household, at every hour he adds merits and mitzvot.

18

A person should always construct himself and bear hardship rather than appeal to people at large and make himself a burden on the community. Our Sages commanded, saying:32 "Make your Sabbaths as weekdays,33 and do not appeal to people at large." Even a distinguished sage who becomes poor should involve himself in a profession - even a degrading one - rather than appeal to people at large. It is preferable for a person to skin the hide of animal carcasses,34 rather than tell people: "I am a great sage..." or "I am a priest, grant me sustenance." Our Sages commanded conducting oneself in such a manner.35

There were great sages who were woodchoppers,36 porters of beams,37 water-carriers for gardens,38 and iron-smelters and makers of charcoal,39 but they did not ask anything from the community, nor did they accept gifts that were given to them.

19

Any person who does not need to take [charity] and deceives the people and takes will not reach old age and die until he requires assistance from people at large. He is among those of whom it is said [Jeremiah 17:5]: "Cursed be a person who trusts in mortals."

[Conversely,] anyone who needs to take [charity] and cannot exist unless he takes, e.g., an elderly man, sick, or beset by afflictions, but is proud and does not take is considered as a murderer. He is liable for his soul and all that he has earned through his hardship40 is sin and guilt.41 But anyone who needs to take [charity], but causes himself affliction and temporarily constrains himself and lives a life of difficulty so that he will not overburden the community will not reach old age and die before he provides sustenance for others from his own means. Concerning such a person and those like him, it is stated [ibid.:7]: Blessed be a person who trusts in God."

Blessed be the Merciful One who grants assistance.