Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

The judgmental philanthropist.

When it comes to charitable contributions, a request with a name and face to it will typically garner a greater donation. “Sponsor Nancy and Jim’s food,” inspires greater giving than, “help support poor people.”

There are times however, that this has the opposite effect. When faced with a specific request, we begin to judge, asking — why don’t they just get jobs? If a calamity was experienced, it’s one thing; but, if they should have done better for themselves, we may be inclined to turn away.

We should prioritize our giving, but we need to tread carefully. This judgmental type of thinking has its roots in Sodom, where charity was punishable by death. Why were the Sodomites so opposed to charity? If you don’t like to give then don’t. Why kill your neighbor for harboring compassionate feelings in his heart? What was behind the Sodomite ideology?

Rabenu Bachya writes that the people of Sodom made the same error that Nimrod and his compatriots — who built the tower of Babel — made. This is difficult to understand. Nimrod understood that Hashem had granted man free-will, and he intended to use it. Going so far as to say to his Creator, You gave me the ability to choose a life devoid of Godliness, and that is precisely what I choose. What does this have to do with Sodom? The sin of Sodom wasn’t heresy, it was cruelty.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro explained that the two sins, at their root, are one. Nimrod and the Sodomites both recognized that Hashem created man in His image, gifting him with free-will. Instead of using their free-will to express the divine, they sought to express only their individuality.

Nimrod, at the very least, believed in unity. He attempted to create a Godless society, where man had no need to go beyond humanity for his needs. The Sodomites took this one step further. They argued that if free-willed-independent man was the purpose of creation, then charity was the greatest sin possible. The needy and their patrons were a disgrace to the very essence of humanity and deserved to die.

But that is not the humanity Hashem sought to create. The Zohar writes that each of the Ten Utterances of Creation correspond to a specific mitzvah. The utterance of “Let us make man,” relates to charity. Humanity comprises of both givers and receivers. Even the wealthiest and healthiest of men rely on others for some of their needs. The giver is expressing his divine nature to give. Only one who has developed his giving nature can truly appreciate and connect with Hashem’s giving.

Those on the receiving end are absolutely essential; it is they who allow the givers to give. In addition, only through a process of receiving from others, can we learn to appreciate that which we receive from Hashem.

Originally published at http://rabbishmulihalpern.com on November 6, 2020.

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