If there will be among you a needy person… you shall not harden your heart and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. Rather you shall open your hand to him and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs which he is lacking… You shall surely give him and you shouldn’t feel resentful when you give. For through this (tzedakah) the Lord your God will bless you in all of your endeavors and all of your efforts inasmuch as there will never cease to be needy within the land.
In this week’s Torah portion we have the mitzvah of Tzedakah. There are few things that define the Jewish people more than our generosity and willingness to help the less fortunate.
I have a class, The Spiritual Bucket List and it is based on the movie that gave rise to the phenomenon of people wishing to do or accomplish certain things during their lifetime before they “kick the bucket”. Bucket Lists usually include things like visiting different parts of the world, hot-air ballooning, skydiving or being able to hold a plank position for a minute. No joke, I have seen the plank one on a list. Let’s just say some people have some very modest life dreams.
The Spiritual Bucket List are things I feel a person ought to try out at least once – and maybe even on a regular or semi-regular basis – to have a particular spiritual experience. On this list is the challenge to give at least $20 to someone asking for money on the side of the road. You know, the men or women who come up to your car with a cardboard sign in-hand and beg for cash.
You see, when it comes to giving charity to the poor bloke or woman on the street, we tell ourselves many reasons why not to give. “Why doesn’t he go out and get a job? He looks pretty healthy to me.” “She will probably use it for beer or cigarettes or drugs.” “Am I an enabler to his lack of willingness to work?” Or “I might catch a disease if I open the car window to give him.”
Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball, he one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
He wear no shoeshine, he got toe-jam football
He got monkey finger, he shoot Coca-Cola…
Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
And even when we give, it’s at most a buck or two. So my suggestion is to do an impulse give. Yeah, an impulse give. You know, like an impulse buy but instead an impulse give.
When it comes to an impulse buy for ourselves, we go ahead and do it without much thinking and calculations. Very often we will purchase something quite spontaneously without much thought and merely on a whim. It might be a pair of shoes, some jewelry, or even something bigger like a car. We don’t do a line-item analysis but just go ahead and get the thing. We don’t calculate whether or not the large corporation is getting too much profit by the cost of the item. We want it, so we go get it. We have no problem plunking down $20, $50, $100 or more at a restaurant, on a new article of clothing or for lunch.
But on the other hand, when it comes to giving others, suddenly we become highly skilled accountants, figuring out cost-benefit analysis. Isn’t it funny how we make all kinds of exacting cheshbonot – calculations when it comes to giving money for Tzedakah, but when it comes to spending on ourselves, all of a sudden our accounting skills go out the window? So why not try to take that same behavior that we do for ourselves and apply it to giving charity. To forget all the calculations and rationalizations and give $20 or $50 or even $100 to some stranger begging for money.
I have done this on a number of occasions and the reactions are extraordinary. One woman remembered me when I saw her a second time, weeks later and told me, “I ate very well that day.” One fellow folded up his sign and said that he doesn’t need to stand on the median in the middle of traffic any more for the day. One guy couldn’t stop shaking my hand and said he was at the intersection for over three hours without much luck. The bottom line is that twenty bucks is not going to make a dent in your life, but it’s a world of difference to the poor fellow on the side of the road.
So I would suggest that just as you sometimes are a bit free-wheeling when it comes to spending on your needs, wants and desires, you should do the same for someone else ever once in a while. Give to a complete stranger in a similar without-thinking manner that you would do for yourself. I’m not suggesting that you do it as often but to merely try it – part of your Spiritual Bucket List – and see how it makes you and the other person feel.
What have you got to lose? 10 or 20 bucks? Trust me, it will be a magical moment and you will not lose at all. In fact the Torah guarantees it will come back to you, as it says, You shall surely give him and you shouldn’t feel resentful when you give. For through this (tzedakah) the Lord your God will bless you in all of your endeavors and all of your efforts.
I am confident it will make your day. It will certainly make the recipients day, and God Himself will also be quite pleased.
He say, “I know you
You know me
One thing I can tell you is you got to be free”