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When Charity Is A Sin

When Charity Is A Sin

The televised ad broke my heart.

The veteran returned from serving as a commander in the U.S. Army in Iraq was a paraplegic. No job, no home, a wife and two children to support and mounting medical bills. He desperately needs help — and he is not alone. Tens of thousands like him are suffering from traumatic physical and emotional wounds. Today there are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans in the United States who account for one-third of the adult homeless population.

They have no place to turn other than one of the many charities established on their behalf. And why, you may well ask, as I did, isn’t the government assuming responsibility for all those who risked their lives for our country? The only answer that’s given is that in these tough times the government simply can’t afford it. Politicians beg off, pleading national poverty and suggesting the private sector pitch in by way of charitable campaigns.

That’s why I find it so remarkable that in spite of claimed insufficient funds for American veterans there doesn’t seem to have been much difficulty in the United States committing to at least $212 million to help rebuild Gaza in the aftermath of a war which they started, controlled by Hamas, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist group, and ringed with tunnels they are presently busy rebuilding solely for the purpose of murdering Israelis.

More striking still is that this appeal for funds from Hamas achieved what is almost unheard of in the realm of charitable giving. In the aftermath of the 50-day conflict this summer, the Palestinian leadership estimated it would require about $4 billion to rebuild destroyed neighborhoods as well as its infrastructure. So that was their goal. The result? To this date they’ve already received $5.4 billion, led by big Arab contributors including Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, in addition to America’s heartfelt assistance. [Qatar recently told the administration that it would no longer continue to fund Hamas.]

Call me callous if you will but these acts of charitable giving, in numbers that deny the reality of many millions of other impoverished groups in the area whose requirements for most basic needs of survival repeatedly go unanswered, clearly come far more from hate then from love. Hamas, unlike the lengthy list of their starving, suffering and grieving neighbors, had the good fortune of attacking the Jews. That’s the only explanation for why the world happily rushes to help aggressors suffering the consequences of their hostility rather than truly deserving victims of warfare and circumstance.

Hebrew language offers a profound insight into the concept of charity. Unlike the English word charity, rooted in the Latin caritas, denoting love, the Hebrew word tzedakah is concerned primarily with tzedek, the concept of justice. Hamas chose to fire missiles from populated areas indiscriminately into major Israeli cities. It was an act of war that required a response. By any military standards — unless Israel is involved — the destruction in Gaza was the justifiable result of Israel’s reaction to ceaseless bombardment of its own citizens.

Charity isn’t charitable when it encourages people to continue to pursue actions that will make them ever more needy and dependent on others. The terrorists of Gaza now know that for them going to war against Israel is a win-win solution. If successful, they are on the way to fulfilling their charter, which seeks not only the conquest of all of Israel but the genocide of its population. If they lose, they can count on the world to rebuild, a perpetual renewal of infrastructure and buildings that will make Gaza always bigger and better than it was before.

And so the world’s charity will ensure the very opposite of tzedakah — a solution rooted in justice and righteousness.

How tragic that so many still don’t understand that even charity may very well be a sin if it is rooted in hate instead of a true desire to aid those deserving of help.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is an associate professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University.

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