How Should I Prioritize My Giving?


 Rosh Hashanah, Day 2: " If I am only for myself, who am I?"

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Translation Original
Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai alone. You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand, and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates.[JPS translation]
ד שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד. ה וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ. ו וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. ז וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. ח וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת, עַל-יָדֶךָ; וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת, בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. ט וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל-מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ, וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to be commanded to love?
2. What is the difference between loving with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might?
3. What does this text say about the focus and energy needed for important causes?

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Torah Study 1:2

Translation Original
Just as it is a person’s duty to teach their child, so it is their duty to teach their grandchild, as it is written: “Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9). This obligation does not refer only to one’s child and grandchild, but it is a duty resting upon every Jewish scholar to teach all those who seek to be their students, even though they are not that scholar’s own children, for it is written: “You shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). On traditional authority, the term “your children” in this verse has been interpreted to mean that your pupils are likewise called children, for it is written: “And the sons of the prophets came out” (II Kings 2:3). [CAJE translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
כשם שחייב אדם ללמד את בנו, כך הוא חייב ללמד את בן בנו, שנאמר: והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך. ולא בנו ובן בנו בלבד, אלא מצוה על כל חכם וחכם מישראל ללמד את כל התלמידים אף על פי שאינם בניו, שנאמר: ושננתם לבניך – מפי השמועה למדו, "בניך" אלו תלמידיך, שהתלמידים קרוים בנים, שנאמר: ויצאו בני הנביאים.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to the Rambam, who is a teacher?
2. What is the obligation of a teacher?
3. How does treating your students as your children transform your responsibility to them?

Deuteronomy 31:12-13

Translation Original
Gather the people - men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities - that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Lord your God as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. [JPS translation]
(יב) הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת: (יג) וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who is commanded to gather to hear God's teaching? Why does the Torah specifically list all family units, in addition to the stranger?
2. Why is it significant to include children? When are children often excluded?

Deuteronomy 4:9

Translation Original
But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children's children. [JPS translation]
רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ וּפֶן יָסוּרוּ מִלְּבָבְךָ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. God is commanding the Israelites not to forget their encounter with God and receiving the Ten Commandments. Why is this important?
2. What does this text teach us about the value of understanding one's own narrative?
3. How does maintaining a communal identity affect our social justice work?

Hatam Sofer, 2:231 (19th Cent. Hungarian Rabbi)

“If there is a poor person within your gates,” Sifre (collection of legal midrash on the book of Deuteronomy) expounds this verse saying, “When one is starving, the one who is starving takes precedence” and then expounds, “The poor of your city take precedence over the poor of another city.” That is to say—this applies if both poor people need food or clothing. However, if the poor of your city have what they need to live, but just don’t have any extra money [and the poor of the other city don’t have food or clothing], then the poor of the other city take precedence over the poor of your city, for the neediest takes precedence. [Translation by Rabbi Jill Jacobs]

Discussion Questions

1. When do we prioritize the poor of our city over the poor of another? Why?
2. When do the poor of another city take precedence? Why?
3. How do we decide how to split our resources when they are limited? Who should take precedence in our social justice work?


Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid, Sefer Chasidim,114-115 (12th Cent. German Kabbalist)

A rich man used to donate money to the community’s tzedakah fund and ask the administrator to distribute it to the poor. Now this rich man had an impoverished brother; in fact, all of his relatives were destitute. The rabbi told the rich man, “The money you dole out to the poor through the tzedakah fund is not tzedakah. Rather, it causes tze’akah, sobbing by your relatives. It is far better that you give these funds to your needy brother and penniless relatives.” [Avraham Finkel]

Discussion Questions

1. How should we prioritize our giving?
2. If we only took care of our relatives, those without relatives would have no help. How do we balance these factors?


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "The Dignity of Difference", p.30 (British Chief Rabbi)

David Hume noted that our sense of empathy diminishes as we move outward from the members of our family to our neighbors, our society and the world. Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the Internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience. Our sense of compassion for the victims of poverty, war and famine, runs ahead of our capacity to act. Our moral sense is simultaneously activated and frustrated. We feel that something should be done, but what, how, and by whom?

Discussion Questions

1. What is the reality Sacks is describing? How has it changed in the last 50 years?
2. In what way are we exposed to compassion fatigue? In what way has our responsibility increased? How are we meant to respond to these changes?
3. What are your answers to Sacks' questions in the last line?


Tosefta, Gittin 3:13 (3rd Century Supplement to the Mishnah)

A city that has Jews and non-Jew, the communal tzedakah-organizers collect from Jews and non-Jews for the sake of the ways of peace, and support poor non-Jews along with poor Jews for the sake of the ways of peace.

Discussion Questions

1. How does this text reflect how Jewish communities deal with tzedakah today?
2. Do you give to Jews and non-Jews equally? Do you believe that you should? How should the Jewish community divide tzedakah?
3. How might this text differ in Israel as opposed to America?

Arthur Waskow, "Down to Earth Judaism," (Renewal Rabbi/Activist)

"For the sake of the paths of peace," said the Rabbis; non-Jews as well as Jews should be given tzedakah. This phrase has two sides. It can be understood either as grudging or as transformative. It might mean that although non-Jews are not really entitled to be helped, keeping peace in the world requires that they be given help. Or it can be understood to mean that for the sake of shalom, the highest communal good and goal, it is not only an obligation but a joy to help all human beings. It may be whichever aspect of this phrase spoke most deeply to people--the fearful and prudential one, or the one that was visionary and hopefully--depended on what the relationships between Jews and their neighbors were in any given time and place. In our own generation, when most Jews are not oppressed or outcasts, both the prudential and the hopeful may fuse into one.

Discussion Questions

1. Are you more inclined to believe that the phrase "for the sake of paths to peace" is grudging or transformative?
2. Has the reasoning for caring for the non-Jewish poor shifted in our modern context?
3. How do you react and respond to Waskow's reasoning in the last line of the text?


Exodus 23:5


When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with your enemy. [Edited for gender neutrality] [JPS translation]


Discussion Questions

1. Why would your initial reaction be to refrain from helping your enemy's donkey?
2. Why are we commanded to fight that reaction and help?
3. Why does the text emphasize that you must help raise the donkey specifically with your enemy (as opposed to doing it alone)?


Rashi, Exodus 23:9 (11th Century French Rabbi, Biblical Commentator)

"Do not oppress a stranger"- You know the feelings of the stranger - how painful it is for the stranger when you oppress them. [Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah translation. Edited for gender neutrality

Discussion Questions

[From Nechama Leibowitz Haggadah, citing Leibowitz's "Studies on Shemot"]

The ethical imperative: Nechama pointed out that the Torah cautions us regarding our behavior toward the stranger no less than 36 times, the most repeated injunction in the Torah. Empathy is an outgrowth of experience. Nechama summarized, "We are bidden to put ourselves in the position of the stranger by remembering how it felt when we were strangers in another land."
1. Why do we engage in the process of collective remembering?
2. How does a common experience affect the way we treat each other?

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra, 8a - 1 (6th Century Commentary on the Mishnah)

It was taught: [One must dwell in a place] thirty days [before giving] to the soup kitchen, three months for the charity fund, six months for clothing, nine months for burial, twelve months for paying taxes. [Translation by Uri L’Tzedek. Edited for gender neutrality]

Discussion Questions

1. Why does responsibility increase as the time one dwells in a location increases?
2. What sense do you make of the priorities in this text?
3. What is the relationship between citizenship and participation in communal needs?

Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein, Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice p. 94. (Director of the Religious Action Center)

By the Middle Ages, community responsibility encompassed every aspect of life. The Jewish community regulated market prices so that the poor could purchase food and other basic commodities at cost. Wayfarers were issued tickets, good for meals and lodging at homes of members of the community, who took turns in offering hospitality. Both these practices anticipated "meal tickets" and modern food stamp plans. Some Jewish communities even established "rent control," directing that the poor be given housing at rates they could afford. In Lithuania, local trade barriers were relaxed for poor refugees. When poor young immigrants came from other places, the community would support them until they completed their education or learned a trade. The organization of charity became so specialized that numerous societies were established to keep pace with all the needs. Each of the following functions was assumed by a different society on behalf of the community at large: visiting the sick, burying the dead, furnishing dowries for poor girls, providing clothing, ransoming captives, supplying maternity needs, and providing necessities for observing holidays. In addition there were public inns for travelers, homes for the aged, orphanages, and free medical care. As early as the eleventh century, a hekdesh ("hospital") was established by the Jewish community of Cologne, primarily for poor and sick travelers. Many later medieval Jewish communities in Poland and Germany adopted this pattern. Spanish Jewish communities hired doctors to serve the entire community to ensure that health care was available to all.

Discussion Questions

1. How can we use the systems described here as a model for our own activism?
2. What is missing from this list?
3. In what ways has the Jewish community lapsed in its care for those in need?