Everyone Has to Give Tzedakah

While it would be inaccurate to say that I have a favorite Biblical verse, Midrash, or Halachah, there are several I have taught many times.

What I have learned over and over  again is that the Talmudic phrase (Chagiga 9b) — “One who reviews the material 100 times is not the same as one who does it 101 times” — is absolutely true. It often happens that, when I think I have “cracked” the real meaning of a text, in a discussion with my audiences and students, very frequently someone reveals a new, surprising, and welcome breakthrough.

One of the texts I have taught innumerable times during the last four or five decades is:

Mar Zutra said: Even a poor person who is supported by Tzedakah must give Tzedakah. (Gittin 7b).

I have read articles about homeless people who have taken change or a bill out of their pocket or purse — sometimes representing their next meal. The reporter has written the article because it, indeed, is very moving, and certainly unexpected. When I see these articles, I am not surprised, because I know the Talmudic text.

My audiences and students have offered a few reasons for Mar Zutra’s statement:

1. Inclusion: If someone is asking for donations from others, you would be denying the poor person his or her place within the chevra of other human beings.

2. The money: Whatever the goal is (in terms of the amount of Tzedakah to be raised), every donation makes a difference.

3. Empowerment: The poor person is generally a taker — in Mar Zutra’s example, one who is surviving on the givers to the communal Tzedakah fund. By the poor person’s giving, he or she has significantly changed the relationship.

4. Dignity: By not asking the poor person, we are essentially saying, “You are not worthy.” Diminishing the poor person’s human value is a dreadful wrong — a felony, not a mere misdemeanor. We are labeling that person as not really a someone, but part of an abstract category of “poor people”, or worse, “the poor”.

And I certainly believe that there is reason to assume that in my future Torah sessions there most assuredly will be more insights to add to the four listed above.

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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