September 2010


Maimonides, often called by his acronym RaMBaM (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), was a 12th century Jewish scholar and physician. He wrote a code of Jewish law, the Mishnah Torah, based on the Rabbinic oral tradition. I have always considered Rambam’s timeless Ladder of Tzedakah the last word on charitable giving. He organized eight levels of tzedakah (charity, or good deeds) into a “ladder” from the least to the most honorable: 

8. (the lowest form of charity) When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than s/he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. When the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.

3. When the donor is aware of the recipient’s identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

You have to admit that’s great stuff. Part of what I am trying to accomplish for myself during the upcoming month is to suspend for a few weeks what I have come to believe about giving, do it in a very different way and see what happens.

I am getting some very helpful suggestions and I hope you will keep them coming. “Make sure you give it to at least one person that you really don’t want to give it to!” “Make sure you give it at least once to someone who looks like they don’t need it! At all!” Thinking I know what need looks like is one of the things I most want to explore.

Thanks for the wonderful, thoughtful and generous comments.

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I looked at a lot of people today, wondering about that $100. Would I give it to the sweet kid who pumped my gas? He was really busy and I was just another gray-haired lady but he indulged me with a genuine moment of connection. What about the young woman eating her (rosemary peanut brittle) ice cream in front of Ruby Jewel? What about the harried man in business attire rushing down the street, seemingly to a job? Or maybe a job interview? Or to pick up the last unemployment check?

I really appreciate all the comments on my first post. I actually expected a lot more controversy and even some negative reactions.  At least a few people must think it is a dumb idea to give away money in such a “non-strategic” way. Some call it “hit and run charity”, or even “dangerous compassion”. I’ve got a foot in that camp myself, being the planner/strategizer that I am by nature. Part of me hopes that the 31 $100 recipients will somehow find each other and together start a non-profit micro-lending enterprise. Now THAT would make a difference!

More about all of this in the days to come. I will be sharing links and resources so if you have read something thought-provoking about money and/or giving, please let me know! (thanks to those of you who have done so already)

Can $100 change a life? For the recipient? The giver?  That is some of what I am setting out to discover. Every day for the month of October, I’m going to give $100 to a stranger I encounter during the course of my routine.

I was recently pleasantly surprised to find that my mother had named me the beneficiary of a small retirement fund. More than usual, I’ve been thinking about money and the role it plays in my life. Although she was raised in an upper class German home, as a Holocaust survivor my mother lived forever with a deeply held conviction that life was defined by scarcity and want. She taught me to be frugal, and modest in my material desires.

I consider myself a generous person and make it a priority to give to causes I care about. Yet I always have questions: how much of an impact does my giving make? Won’t the need always be overwhelming? Should I spread out my gifts, or give more to fewer groups? Should I give anonymously?  Or only to strangers? I worry one day that I am not giving enough away, and the next that I might not have enough for myself and my family.

This project is about making a difference, starting with 31 people, and about exploring my money and giving issues. It is a way to honor my mother’s gift to me as well as the lessons I learned from her. I hope to spark some discussion and maybe even some generosity. Every day I’ll tell the story of the day’s $100 giveaway.

Starting now, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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