“When you have tithed your produce ... and you shall give them to the Levite, foreigner, orphan and widow so that they will eat to their satisfaction in your cities” Deuteronomy 26:12
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Tzedakah, according to Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz (1782-1860), should act as a safeguard to protect a person from arrogance: instead of people thinking they are wealthy through their own endeavours, regular giving will instil in them a sense of humility, in the recognition that it is God who has blessed them and they are purely a hired hand who must pay rent in the form of tzedakah.
To further encourage us to fufil our duty, the sages explained that the Torah guarantees that a person who tithes their money properly will prosper (Talmud Taanit 9a). The renowned 20th-century halachist, Rabbi Moses Feinstein, also emphasised the need to give of one’s time for volunteer work.
Jack Douek in his book The Hesed Boomerang develops the idea that acts of tzedakah and kindness often come back like a boomerang and benefit the person who performs those deeds. He illustrates this with a true story about the billionaire Donald Trump who, in May 1996, had a flat tyre on the motorway. He had no chauffeur that day and tried to flag someone down to help. No one bothered to stop.
Eventually a middle-aged man stopped to help him. “How may I repay you?” Trump asked the gentleman. “Just send my wife some flowers”. Trump took down his name and address and left. After a few weeks the flowers arrived with a note apologising for the delay, explaining that the man’s mortgage had now been fully paid off.
Ironically, when we perform an act for someone else’s benefit, it is really the giver who gains. Thus it may be said that the ultimate selfish act is caring for others.