Rabbi’s Commentary

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The Highest Form of Charity

November 29, 2016

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Dear Friend of The Fellowship,

It’s a tradition for many people to give a year-end gift to charity. Many religious institutions and philanthropic organizations actually depend on this end-of-year boost to stay solvent. #GivingTuesday takes place today all over the world, making the most of this growing tradition.

For both Jews and Christians, the giving of charity isn’t just a tradition – it’s a biblical mandate. Scripture contains numerous verses about caring for the poor and giving to those in need. One passage that has guided us at The Fellowship through the years is Deuteronomy 15:7-8, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”

As Jews and Christians we share this command, and we share the challenge of obeying it. It’s important to pause occasionally to ask ourselves what our motivation is for giving to charity. Do we, for instance, engage in acts of charity with a glad heart, grateful at the opportunity to help someone less fortunate? Or is it with a grudging heart – giving that comes only out of a sense of duty or obligation? If we’re honest, most of us would admit that it depends on the circumstances.

In Judaism, we distinguish between eight levels of charity that are based on our attitude toward giving. For example, at the lowest level of charity is one who gives, but gives grudgingly. The next level is one who doesn’t give enough, but does so gladly. Next is the person who gives to the poor after being asked, followed by someone who gives to the poor before being asked. Other levels of charity have to do with whether the recipient knows his or her benefactor, or whether the benefactor knows the recipient.

The highest form of charity in the Jewish tradition is giving someone the means to support himself. This could mean giving someone a loan or entering into a partnership with that person, or finding that person employment – equipping him to take care of himself and his family.

This is the type of charity that we at The Fellowship have been able to provide for many needy people in Israel and around the world through the generosity of our supporters. I know personally from the letters we receive from you, our donors that this giving is done both sacrificially and lovingly. It is, indeed, the highest form of charity. We are grateful for this generosity and the good it enables us to do – and I feel certain that it is pleasing to God.

Because we highly value your biblical obedience and sacrificial giving, we do our utmost to use your funds responsibly. We rely on your generosity to make a lifesaving difference for thousands of needy people in Israel, Jews in the former Soviet Union, and around the world, and you can rely on us to be good stewards of your contributions.

As Moses reminded the people of Israel, the poor will always be with us. It is up to each one of us to decide how we will respond. As God’s Word commands us, we are to be openhanded when it comes to the less fortunate, give what we can to provide for their needs, and do so with gladness of heart.

My friends, may we all continue this historic partnership between Jews and Christians that has resulted in so much good for needy people all over the globe. And may we also know the joy of engaging in the highest form of charity – the joy that comes when we help our brothers and sisters in need to stand on their own two feet, and give with an open, joyful heart.

If you would like to participate with The Fellowship in #GivingTuesday, please do so by clicking here.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
President and Founder, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Canada


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