Jews are givers. We’re always willing to put our hands into our pockets for a worthy cause, and we’re even more ready to roll up our sleeves and pitch in when needed.

Those better off are expected to support their less fortunate brethren and, by and large, we fulfill that obligation with grace and spirit. I’ve read that the Jerusalem phone book has a list of more than 1,500 free-loan societies operating in that city alone, established by generous volunteers lending anything and everything that one could possibly need.

We hail from generous stock. The first Jew, Abraham, was famous for the compassion with which he treated every person. He was known as ish hachesed (“the man of compassion”).

Abraham refused to restrict his generosity to those he loved and knew well, but reached out to all. He established a public guest house; offering free board and lodging to every passing stranger. He risked his life to protect the victims of illegal aggression and was even ready to advocate on behalf of the truly evil people of Sodom.

He left his sickbed to chase through the desert after some passing Arabs, desperately trying to catch them and offer them hospitality. Incredibly, even after the Egyptians abducted his wife and were being punished by G‑d for their sins, Abraham prayed for their return to health.

The Torah describes how the trait of generosity was so ingrained in Abraham’s psyche that he felt physically ill when he could not help others. He gave, gave more and kept on giving.

How can we possibly hope to emulate this phenomenal kindness and compassion? How does one master the capacity to truly empathize with others? The first step is to stop thinking about people in the abstract and focus on individuals.

Every fundraiser knows that people don’t give to institutions, they give to the person. When anti-poverty campaigners want to solicit support for food kitchens and homeless shelters, rather than leading off with dry statistics about the number of people served or a picture of the shelter, they put the face of a sweet little kid on the front of the brochure.

What inspires people to send aid money to the Horn of Africa? When they see the picture of one fly-blown stick figure staring wistfully at the camera, belly swollen from malnutrition, they contextualize the suffering of an entire nation and commit to the cause.

By focusing first on the needs of the individual, we come to care about the collective. Anne Frank’s diary about one child’s Holocaust experience helped people empathize with the loss of 6 million others. So, too, the decision to reach out and help a single refugee, battered wife or abused child will eventually inspire you to be there for so many more.

Abraham kept everything personal. He didn’t just love people in the abstract, but cared deeply for every individual. Each child was an entire world and when he saw the suffering of another, he also felt that pain.

Charity is not an industry, but a way of life. People who give, give because they care. They came to care because they focused on the needs of the individual and then extended that love to society as a whole.

Our challenge is to recognize the power of one—to emulate our forefather Abraham in his care and compassion for all, to give all that we have to others and change this world for the better.

Source: Torat Menachem 5744, volume 2, page 961