Charity - Tzedaka


Moshe Ben-Chaim


The Torah saw it necessary to record two accounts of tzedaka. This is because I believe there are two basic concepts regarding tzedaka.

One story is about Avraham, after he defeated the five kings, where Malkitzedek brought out bread and wine to nourish Avraham, and Avraham gave a tenth of his possessions to Malkitzedek. The second account, describes Jacob, upon his flee from his brother Esav, where God, in the famous dream of the ladder, assured Jacob of His Divine providence. Here we find Jacob swore to give a tenth. We learn two ideas about tzedaka from these accounts.

Regarding Avraham, as Malkitzedek greeted him with the bread and wine, it says that Malkitzedek blessed Avraham. However, Avraham did not respond. But in the next passage, Malkitzedek blessed again, only in this blessing, he is blessing God, not Avraham. In this very same sentence, it records that Avraham then gave Malkitzedek a tenth of all that he had. Why did Avraham wait for the second blessing? I believe that the Torah is indicating here that there must be a proper recipient for tzedaka. Once Malkitzedek blessed God, he defined himself as that proper recipient.


In connection with Jacob, there is a different lesson. Here, I believe the focus is not on the recipient, but on the benefactor, namely Jacob. Jacob’s tenth displayed 2 objectives: 1) he wanted to demonstrate that all which he received was directly from God. Therefore the concept of returning possessions to God made sense. 2) He had no fear that by being charitable, that he was in any way placing himself in monetary risk. He was certain that God would continually provide.

The gain then that one receives by giving tzedaka is that he is constantly affirming his belief that God provides, and will provide for him. The charitable person has no problem parting with his money. Firstly, this is not his central value system, the pursuit of wisdom is. Secondly, he does not look at this as a loss. We learn in Malachi (3:10) that God tells the Jews that charity is the one area a person is allowed to “test” God, to see if He will return to us financial success. God states, “...and test Me please with this, says the Master of Hosts, (see) if I do not open up the storehouses of heaven, and empty out (for you) a blessing until you have more than enough”. God is guaranteeing that by giving tzedaka, we assure for ourselves financial security, and not an average income, but “until we have more than enough”.


We learn from Abraham and Jacob that one must give to a worthwhile recipient, and that one affirms his convictions in God’s kindness and generosity towards man when we are charitable. We lose nothing in the process, but rather, we secure God’s blessings. We also affirm our convictions that the very monies we give, are in fact from God, by giving to those who follow God.

One might listen to these words with a bit of disbelief and ask, “How will God accomplish that? I give tzedaka, and God will give me financial success?”

To this person I would ask, “Did not God create the heavens and earth? The sun and moon…the innumerable number of spheres in space? Is it not then a small thing for Him to give financial increase? Recognition of those who have less than us is commanded many times in the Torah. There are many reasons for us to adhere to this command. As Maimonides states in the Mishneh Torah, “this commands must be followed more carefully than all other positive commands”. One who thinks this through will arrive at the truth, that he should experience no sense of risk when he gives his tzedaka.

Tzedaka is not defined merely as giving money as its own ends. The obligation of tzedaka when giving to the poor is to also restore one’s sense of self so he may function inline with Torah. Therefore, as Jewish law states, if one had a high level of living, where, for example he had a servant-pulled horse, and became impoverished, one’s obligation is to restore to him a servant and a horse. Even if the one giving doesn’t live this high, it is irrelevant, as the goal is to restore one to a state where he feels his self image restored, and can function once again, achieving the lifestyle outlined by the Torah. When we give to the poor, our intent must not be to simply provide finances, but to raise this person’s state of mind to a level of self-sufficiency and happiness, that he feels well enough to realign himself with the Torah lifestyle.

The Shulchan Aruch states that the highest level of charity is 20% of ones profit. Not the commonly assumed 10%. 10% is mentioned as an average person’s tzedaka. But the highest form is 20%.



There are 8 levels of charity.
The source for this law is in the Jewish law book entitled “Shulchan Aruch”, Chap. 249,
subheadings 6 through 13:

1) Assisting the poor person so he no longer requires charity, i.e., giving him a job
2) Where the donor and recipient are both ignorant of each other (this removes ego from
the donor, and humility from the recipient)
3) The donor alone knows the recipient, but not vice versa
4) The poor person knows the donor, but not vice versa
5) Both know each other, and the donor gives prior to being asked
6) You give the poor person what he asks, only after he asks
7) You give the poor person less than what he asks, but with a pleasant countenance
8) You give the poor person begrudgingly