By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

A kamtzan is a miser and is pronounced kamtzn in Yiddish. He is a regular feature in Chasidic tales, in which he either pays the penalty for his stinginess or is taught the meaning of generosity. It seems as though the kamtzan was a familiar figure in every community, alongside the child prodigy and the local tzaddik.

Kamtzan derives from the word kometz, which in the Bible means to grasp with only three fingers, as in (Leviticus 2:2), The priest shall scoop [kamatz, with three fingers] out of it a handful. (Incidentally, the Hebrew vowel kamatz earned its name from its tripodal shape.) One cannot grasp much with only three fingers, and kometz therefore came to denote a small amount. Hence, a kamtzan is someone who deals only in meagre quantities.

Donating to the needy is a fundamental commandment. The rabbis require one to set aside a tenth of ones earnings for this purpose. Giving less is known as ayin raah, a bad eye, while giving more is known as ayin yafah, a good or fine eye.

The rabbis linked ones ability to give freely not with ones wealth but with ones outlook on the world. Did one see the world with a good eye, emphasising the abundance therein; or a bad eye, which only saw scarcity and caused its owner to fear the loss that giving would cause?

The narrow grasp of the kamtzans hand is related to his poor vision. Before three fingers can become an entire hand reaching out to the poor, his perspective must shift.

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009