Both Christianity and Judaism have similar beliefs regarding charity. Aside from the usual,”God loves a cheerful giver”, the manner or application of the act is as important as the act itself. In order to ensure that the real motivation is charity and not self-aggrandizement both the Bible and the Torah require anonymity. “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. Maimonides, a preeminent Jewish philosopher did one better:
Maimonides says that, while the second highest form of tzedakah is to anonymously give donations to unknown recipients, the highest form is to give a gift, loan, or partnership that will result in the recipient supporting himself instead of living upon others.
For reasons that run the gamut, from magnanimity to guilt, the Christmas season brings out the giver in all of us. Images of the Salvation Army Santa in front of department stores come readily to mind, food drives, toys for tots, church donations, even the big time charities expect major donations this time of year. But some like to cut out the middle man and give directly:
At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.
Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.
“She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn’t going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it,” Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to “remember Ben,” an apparent reference to her husband.
It is hard to criticize charity is this manner. Although this may not be the best bang for your buck (toys or presents geared for kids, sure, but plasma screen TV’s, 12 year old bottles of Scotch, or a new ipad? not sure about that). The other point being that it’s hard to say if these purchases really helped somebody poor or struggling, but I guess if they are using “layaway”, I didn’t know they still had that, they probably qualify. But it is her money so good for her.
My wife’s favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife, which we watch every year, the story of a rich widow bent on building the biggest Cathedral as a monument to her late husband, but she and all those involved comes to realize that helping the poor, sick, and needy would be a much better use of her money then one grandiose gesture.
S.A. Santa’s on the west coast have it easy due to our mild weather, but for you guys in the mid west or on the east coast, next time you pass one ringing his bell, bring him a coffee, hopefully with a splash of brandy in it.