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.