What’s in your wallet?

We live in an age of unprecedented wealth. Do we therefore live in an age of unprecedented charity?

Many studies have demonstrated that paradoxically, rich people give a much lower percentage of their income to charity than poor people. As wealth accumulates, giving does not usually follow suit. There are exceptions of course; but the rule seems to hold.

For many people giving is a numbers game. Their livelihood will not be affected no matter how much they give. It is a matter of numbers on a page or a screen. Yet the psychological obstacles to generosity are real. Many who could give don’t, simply because they feel an inexplicable sense of loss when giving away money they could easily spare.

“We have never seen nor heard of an Israelite community that does not have a charitable fund,” wrote Maimonides in the Middle Ages. Tzedakah is central to Jewish life. Or to put it in a story: Once a wealthy Jew came before God after death. God asked, “I gave you so much. Why didn’t you give more to tzedakah?” The man answered, “Here, tell me what to give to — I’ll write a check!”

“I’m afraid not,” God said. “Up here, we only accept receipts.”

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.