I thought this would be one of the hardest mitzvots of all.
Years ago, I was taught by secular Jewish friend that giving away money was disrespectful to money. It devalued money to give it away.
And, for years, I agreed. Until I tried it.
There’s a special outreach newspaper that homeless people sell, and they get to keep all the money they raise. When the paper was launched, I was one of its most vocal champions: “finally a way for these people to earn an honest buck, instead of putting out their hands and just begging for it.” But then I promptly forgot about it.
Until a few weeks ago.
I had just spent more money on a single piece of sushi-grade tuna than most homeless newspaper vendors will make in a day, when I emerged from the store and saw…him. My body instinctively tried to carry me away from him. But my newfound Jewish teachings kicked in and stopped me.
I turned, looked him in the eye, and did something I normally avoided like…well…like homeless people on the street. I treated him like a human being. I struck up a conversation. And, while we were talking, I put all of the change in my pocket into his hat. He offered me a paper, and my old instincts kicked back in. “That’s all right,” I said, “I won’t have time to read it.” And he said, with a smile, “Take it. It’s got a good crossword.”
Now, let’s break this down.
1) He already had my money. All of it. Easily tripling what was already in his hat.
2) He had a limited number of newspapers in his hand. Which meant that, if he had kept my newspaper, he could “sell” it again, and make even more money.
3) He smiled and looked into my eyes, long after I had given him my money.
That brief experience was such a blessing to me that it broke my nearly 20-year habit of walking past beggars on the street, not making eye contact, and not giving them money.
He helped me to become a better Jew.
Giving away money may devalue money. But it adds value to my life as a prospective Jew, and to the life of the person I give to.
Is there a more valuable use for money than that?