Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Secret Santas

The Golden Tarot © Kat Black and US Games Systems

Too many have dispensed with generosity
in order to practice charity.

— Albert Camus

There are many opinions about how best to offer kindness to others. Should the giver remain anonymous? Or should the recipient be given a chance to honor the giver by knowing who it is? Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir in the The Jewish Ethicist writes, “There are good reasons for giving anonymously, but we need to put them in perspective…

“Part of the value of anonymity … is indeed due to modesty, as Maimonides writes that an anonymous gift is ‘a commandment fulfilled for its own sake,’ rather than done in order to obtain honor. But an equally important consideration is to avoid shaming the recipient.”

Moses Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher, physician and all-round intellectual giant of the 12th Century. He was the first to write a systematic code of all Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. And his hierarchy of charity still influences people of many faiths today. He proposed eight levels of charitable giving, or tzedakah, starting with least honorable, moving up to the most exemplary form:

8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than 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 the gift of self-reliance. To give someone a gift or a loan, or to enter into a partnership with him, or to find work for him, in order that that he will no longer be dependent.

In other words, our number one priority, in offering kindness, is to ensure that there is fairness, social justice, and dignity for all. In a society that is founded on generosity, less charity is needed in the first place. The whole notion of judging whether your gift is being used “appropriately” by the recipient, or even if the person to whom you’ve given it is “worthy,” is a set up for miserliness.

As yesterday’s quote from the Bhadavad Gita notes, only by surrendering our attachment to the outcome can we give generously with peace in our hearts. And for many people, anonymous giving at Maimonides’ level two or three, is how we can ensure the release of our inclination to judge the outcome. We give because it is the right thing to do, because we are able to. We bestow blessings in an act of Grace, opening our hearts in unconditional love.

So here’s today’s suggestion! This is a joyous act of kindness in which there is no debate — it is essential that you remain anonymous. And it just so happens that this suggestion is timed to coincide with tonight’s celebrations across much of Europe.

Hint: Tonight is St. Nicholas’ Eve.

This time of year, the Postal Service handles millions of letters to Santa Claus. Many will be answered by a variety of Santa’s helpers — charitable organizations, employees of local Post Offices and individual volunteers who want to help enchant children’s holidays. Maybe you’d like to help, too. All you have to do is contact your local Postmaster to find out how and where you can participate.

Although Santa Claus might not be a central figure in your spiritual beliefs, you can hardly argue that he is deeply magical and reminds us how to see the world through the eyes of the children.

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  • December 6, 2008, 3:37 pm Donald Engstrom-Reese

    Thank you so much for this post. It came at just the right time for me. It was so good to review Maimonides eight levels of charitable giving. I haven’t looked at it for years. It still think it is brilliant.

    May we all dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight.

  • December 7, 2008, 12:26 am arnie draiman

    great stuff! but you do not have a full or exact translation of maimonides’ eight levels of tzedakah. try this:

    There are eight degrees of giving Tzedakah:
    1. The highest degree is to strengthen the hand of a Jew who is poor, giving that person a grant or loan or becoming a partner or finding a job for that person, to strengthen the person’s hand, so that the person will not need to ask for assistance from others…

    2. A lesser degree, is one who gives Tzedakah to a poor poor and is unaware of the recipient, who, in turn, is unaware of the giver. This is indeed a religious act achieved for its own sake.

    Of a similar character is one who contributes to a Tzedakah fund. One should not contribute
    to a Tzedakah fund unless he or she knows that the person in charge of the collections is
    trustworthy and wise and knows how to manage the money properly…

    3. The [third], lesser, degree is when the giver knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the giver. The great sages used to go secretly and cast the money into the doorway of poor people. Something like this should be done, it being a noble virtue, if the Tzedakah
    administrators are behaving properly.

    4. The [fourth], still lower, degree is when the recipient knows the giver, but the giver does not know the recipient. The great sages used to tie money in sheets which they threw behind their backs, and poor people would come and get it without being embarrassed.

    5. The [fifth], still lower degree is when the giver puts the Tzedakah money into the hands of poor people without being solicited.

    6. The [sixth], still lower degree is when he or she puts the money into the hands of a poor person after being solicited.

    7. The [seventh], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person less than he or she should, but does so cheerfully.

    8. The [eighth], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person grudgingly/with a feeling of pain/unhappily.

    (Mishna Torah, Laws of Gifts to Poor People, 10:7-14)

    this is danny siegel’s translation ( i prefer to translate #8 as ‘giving via sadness/pain’.

    happy to discuss this more.

    arnie draiman

  • December 7, 2008, 7:14 am Beth Owl's Daughter

    Thanks Arnie.. Yes, I realized I was offering a short-hand version, since I am not remotely qualified to analyze Maimonides in serious depth, shikse that I am (in this lifetime, anyway)! So thank you for adding these examples and clarification.

    And Donald, as always, you amaze me with the scope of your background and experience. I’m so glad to have you visiting here!

  • December 8, 2008, 2:25 pm Seth

    It’s true that the full translation has more details — especially in the highest level being to create self-sufficiency in a fellow Jew — but I for one don’t mind seeing that elided.

    I feel that focus on “Jew” in the highest level could turn off some non-Jewish people who might otherwise find Maimonides’ reflections on charity resonate with them deeply. It is, after all, a ladder applicable to people of all faiths.

    (My own recent reflections on the eight levels are even less exact, but the message is there.)