The art of giving tzedakah

It was my father who taught me that the recommended amount to give for tzedakah was 10%.

It was back in the day, I had told him that I was going to give my roommate all of my clothes, in case she needed them since she didn’t have anything to wear.

“Well, what are you going to wear?” my father asked.

“Who cares?” I replied. “As long as I’m considered a good Jew, that’s all that matters.”

My father explained to me the meaning of Jews giving 10%, rather than giving everything we have.

He basically said that, as Jews, we should give BUT not to the point where we have nothing left.

This was because then you, as a Jew, would end up needing help because of how much you gave away…which is not at all the point of helping.

I definitely didn’t apply that concept to my life over the years.

Many times, I found myself giving way too much.

I gave to the point where I had nothing left.

Some of the things I would do:

I would listen to friends’ problems for hours when I should have been doing homework or working, as a result, I wouldn’t get things done. Or I would even get fired, because I was on the phone with my friends, instead of working.

I gave away money that I couldn’t afford to. This would leave me hungry for days as I no longer had money left for basic things such as food or even a Metrocard.

I would also get involved in destructive relationships to solve people’s problems. Then I would get emotionally upset when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I would also get blamed for THEIR relationship problems. (This would leave me waking up stressed and upset, like I did today.)

I’m well aware that I’m a capable human being who loves giving, but…I’m only 27 years old. I don’t have years and years of experience under my belt.

(I’m not a grown-ass 50 year-old woman.)

My naiveté and desire to help others has cost me and I’ve made many mistakes, but it’s time to change.

I want to end this destructive path I am on.

So, how can I give in a way that doesn’t tax me personally?

How can I (or anyone) give and still feel powerful instead of weak and fragile?

I think I’ve come up with a list of things I could do.

I could feed the cats every night. It’s so cheap and I could do it when I have time after work.

Instead of listening to my friends problems for hours, I could do it for 30 minutes. Instead of trying to be a family therapist to friends, I could suggest that they find therapists themselves.

Instead of giving my roommates all of my clothes, I could give them some of my clothes so I still have things to wear.

Instead of giving away all of my money, I could give extra money away that I know I won’t need or use.  I could give 10% of what I make.

I could also visit a nursing home on Shabbat. I would feel great and so would the people who need the company.

I could also volunteer at an animal shelter when I have time. I love animals and its a great way to give.

So, I guess giving is also a form of art. We must help others when problems comes their way. We must try to help, but how much can we give?

About the Author
Anat Ghelber was born in Israel and moved to Texas when she was 13. She experienced anti-Semitism in public schools there. She moved to New York City when she was 20, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. She started submitting articles to the Jewish Voice two years ago. In her free time enjoys writing poems. She's also a certified Yoga teacher with 200 hours of training who teaches in a donation-based studio called Yoga to the People in New York City.
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