On the 7th day of Hanukah, an anonymous donor gave to me a car-fridge and a new Wii. (Or so I dream.)
According to Maimonides, this kind of gift, where the donor knows the recipient (i.e. the coveted car-fridge) but the recipient doesn’t know the donor, is the 3rd highest level of giving. The highest is the well-known teach-a-man-to-fish and the lowest is when donations are given begrudgingly.
I like the sentiment behind this analysis. The best charitable gifts are given with loving-kindness and without any expectation of return. And recipients are often the most grateful when there is mystery surrounding a gift’s origin.
But it struck me recently that we rarely talk about one of the most important aspects of giving: role modeling.
The gradation of gifting only takes into account the relationship between benefactor and beneficiary, but not of the relationship with the surrounding community. Assuming the whole community is already tithing 10% of their income, what can possibly persuade people to part with their hard-earned dollars? It’s likely the same force that draws people out in droves to buy a new iPhone.
Everyone’s doing it!
And once someone buys that new iPhone 11, it attracts attention. Look at that sleek body, that beveled edge, that awesome logo. I want to get in on that action. I want to have my name on that adorned plaque high up on the temple wall like everyone else, even if it means doing good in spite of myself.
If someone donates completely anonymously and never tells another soul, they have certainly done good in the eyes of God. But I do think they would have done more good had they told their friends and family and encouraged them to do the same. Or perhaps pledge to match the gifts of their community members.
I admit that some may interpret this as a green light to brag incessantly and “make a name for themselves.” But in such cases, good may still come from it, when others donate solely to dampen the boisterous pride.
The ideal, then, is to give anonymously to the beneficiary when possible but to make this donation known to your peers and those who look up to you in order to serve as a role model and encourage similar actions.
Our charitable institutions would certainly have a merry Chanukah if donating became as socially contagious as shelling out for a bigger LCD TV. And tzedakah would occupy a more prominent position in our minds and a more active role in our lives.
So instead of telling the story about how you stood in line for three days to buy your new tech toy, tell about the time you found the perfect little charity that is doing the coolest thing to help these people truly in need.
Spread the word.