Hillel of Greater Philadelphia Staff Training: G'milut Hasadim (Acts of Lovingkindness)


Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 9b

Translation Original
R. Isaac said: Anyone who gives a coin to a poor person is blessed with six blessings, but one who encourages the poor with words is blessed with eleven. [Soncino translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
ואמר רבי יצחק: כל הנותן פרוטה לעני מתברך בשש ברכות, והמפייסו בדברים - מתברך בי"א ברכות.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to encourage someone with words?
2. How is this more important than giving someone money?

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Translation Original
If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend them sufficient for whatever they need. Beware lest you harbor the base thought, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching," so that you are mean to your needy kins and give him nothing. They will cry out ot the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Give to them readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Lord your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land. [JPS translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
כִּי יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ מֵאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן: כִּי פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר עִם לְבָבְךָ בְלִיַּעַל לֵאמֹר קָרְבָה שְׁנַת הַשֶּׁבַע שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְרָעָה עֵינְךָ בְּאָחִיךָ הָאֶבְיוֹן וְלֹא תִתֵּן לוֹ וְקָרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל ה' וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא: נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ וְלֹא יֵרַע לְבָבְךָ בְּתִתְּךָ לוֹ כִּי בִּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֶׂךָ וּבְכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ: (יא) כִּי לֹא יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ: ס

Suggested Discussion Questions

1) How do you think God might ‘bless people in their work’ for giving to the poor?
2) Traditional Jews believe that all texts appear in the bible for a reason. If so, why are we told, “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land?”
3) Do you believe that we can ever satisfy all human needs? If not, then why do we continue to try?

Deuteronomy 15:1-6

Translation Original
Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he/she claims from his/her fellow; s/he shall not dun his/her fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of Adonai. You may dun the foreigner; but you must remit whatever is due you from your kinsmen. There shall be no needy among you -- since Adonai will bless you in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion -- if only you heed Adonai your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. For your God will bless you as God has promised you: you will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself; you will dominate many nations, but they will not dominate you. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]

מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה שְׁמִטָּה: וְזֶה דְּבַר הַשְּׁמִטָּה שָׁמוֹט כָּל בַּעַל מַשֵּׁה יָדוֹ אֲשֶׁר יַשֶּׁה בְּרֵעֵהוּ לֹא יִגֹּשׂ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וְאֶת אָחִיו כִּי קָרָא שְׁמִטָּה לַה': אֶת הַנָּכְרִי תִּגֹּשׂ וַאֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֶת אָחִיךָ תַּשְׁמֵט יָדֶךָ: אֶפֶס כִּי לֹא יִהְיֶה בְּךָ אֶבְיוֹן כִּי בָרֵךְ יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ: רַק אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם: כִּי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בֵּרַכְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְהַעֲבַטְתָּ גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְאַתָּה לֹא תַעֲבֹט וּמָשַׁלְתָּ בְּגוֹיִם רַבִּים וּבְךָ לֹא יִמְשֹׁלוּ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What attitude do we find in this text regarding financial success?
2. Why is it important to have a remission of debts? How does this shape a society?
3. What are the reasons debt relief has been such an important topic in global issues? What lessons does this text offer governments could use when writing policy on lending and debt?

Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49B

Translation Original
Our Sages taught: Gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) is greater than tzedakah in three ways: Acts of tzedakah involve only one’s money – gemilut chasadim can involve both money or one’s personal service. Tzedakah can be given only to the poor – gemilut chasadim can be done both for the rich and for the poor. Tzedakah can be given only to the living – gemilut chasadim can be done both for the living and the dead. [AJWS translation]
תנו רבנן: בשלשה דברים גדולה גמילות חסדים יותר מן הצדקה, צדקה - בממונו, גמילות חסדים - בין בגופו בין בממונו. צדקה - לעניים, גמילות חסדים - בין לעניים בין לעשירים. צדקה - לחיים, גמילות חסדים - בין לחיים בין למתים.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways can acts of lovingkindness be done for the wealthy?
2. How can we add lovingkindness to our tzedakah?
3. How can we add lovingkindness to our foreign assistance policies? to our domestic policies?

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

Translation Original
At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates... and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. [Translation by Hillel and Panim]
מִקְצֵה שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים תּוֹצִיא אֶת כָּל מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִוא וְהִנַּחְתָּ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that there is a difference between the mitzvah of leaving the corners of your field unharvested and the mitzvah of not returning to pick up what was left or forgotten? If so, what is the difference?

2. According to these verses, how much of any harvest belongs to the “owner?” Why? What does this tell us about who really “owns” the land? the trees? the labor? the produce?

3. What is the value of having the needy come to harvest their own portion?

4. We do not live in an agricultural society today. Do you think this text has contemporary relevance? How might we apply this sense of mandatory sharing of our earnings to the world we live in?

Mishna, Pe'ah 1:1

Translation Original
These are the things for which there is no measure: the corner of the field [which is left for the poor], the first-fruits offering, the pilgrimage, acts of lovingkindness, and Torah learning. These are the things for which a person reaps the fruits in this world and his reward is in the world to come: honoring father and mother, acts of lovingkindness, bringing peace between people and the study of Torah is equal to them all. [AJWS translation]
אלו דברים שאין להם שיעור הפאה והבכורים והראיון וגמילות חסדים ותלמוד תורה אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום בין אדם לחבירו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. In what ways are these things not measurable?
3. How does a person reap benefits from these acts?

Aruch HaShulchan, Laws of Tzedakah, 248:15

Translation Original
A most generous person who gives tzedakah beyond their financial ability or squeezes themselves to give to the collector in order not to shame themselves, it is forbidden to demand and collect tzedakah from them, and the collector who shames them by asking for money, in the future the Holy One will punish that person. So the sages said (Baba Batra 8a) that as it is written, “I will punish all that oppress them,” this has been extended to tzedakah collectors who pressure givers into giving when the giver is not “estimated” to give that amount.... [Translation by Rabbi Bruce Elder. Edited for gender neutrality]
איש נדיב ביותר שנותן צדקה יותר מכפי יכולתו או שמיצר לעצמו ונותן לגבאי כדי שלא יתבייש אסור לתובעו ולגבות ממנה צדקה והגבאי שמכלימו ושואל ממנו עתיד הקב"ה ליפרע ממנו וכך אמרו חז"ל [ב"ב ח' ב] דהא דכתיב ופקדתי על כל לוחציו קאי על גבאי צדקה שלוחצים להנותן ליתן והוא אינו אמור ליתן ע"ש.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the purpose of the tzedakah collector?
2. Is it wise to give beyond your ability? How do we know what the limits of our ability are?
3. Why is it so important for the collector not to shame or pressure people?

Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 79a

Translation Original
And he said, there are three traits in this nation [Israel]: those who are compassionate, those who are timid and those who perform acts of lovingkindness. [AJWS translation]
אמר, שלשה סימנים יש באומה זו: הרחמנים, והביישנין, וגומלי חסדים.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, every person has at least one of the above traits. Which do you have - and when?
2. What is the relationship between timidness and action?