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.

Wise Solomon wrote, “When you give to a poor man, you are lending to G‑d.” That’s because G‑d repays all charitable funds—along with handsome dividends—here, in this world. According to the Prophet Malachi, G‑d even challenges us, saying, “Try it and see.”

Doing It Right:

The highest form of tzedakah (charity) is to provide self-sufficiency. Extend a loan to a friend, allowing him to embark on a business project; help an acquaintance find a job or bring her into your family business.

No one should have to pay with his dignity for another’s assistance. That’s why it’s better to give anonymously. Similarly, give before you are asked. Spare the fellow the embarrassment of having to beg.

And the main ingredient: Give with a smile and genuine warmth. No one should have to pay with his dignity for another’s assistanceHow you give, our sages taught, is more important than how much you give!

The Right Time to Do It:

It’s always the right time to give. But certain times are more auspicious than others.

Drop a few coins in the pushka (charity box) before your prayers. Provide for others and G‑d will provide for you.

Women and girls should do the same before lighting Shabbat and holiday candles—before ushering in the holiest days on the calendar.

It’s an age-old tradition to pledge money to tzedakah in the merit of the souls of departed loved ones while saying Yizkor. In their heavenly abode they cannot do mitzvahs, so it’s up to us to do it for them.

The Result of Doing It:

When G‑d made the world, He left us the task of injecting it with spirituality and meaning. Nothing accomplishes this goal like tzedakah. Give tzedakah, and all the effort which went into making that hard-earned money takes on a new meaning, serving more than a selfish need. That’s why our sages tell us: “Great is charity, for it hastens the Redemption!”