Charity – Small versus Large Sums
I find myself inundated with requests for charity, both at my door and in my mailbox. To me, this creates a dilemma. On the one hand, I feel I shouldn’t turn down worthy causes. On the other, if I spread out my limited resources so thin, I will end out giving very modest donations. I am tempted to choose only a few causes and give much more to them, so I’ll feel my donations are making a difference. What do you recommend?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First of all, I am impressed with your desire to make the most of your charity. As in all areas of Jewish law, Judaism does not just tell us to be good and leave it at that. It provides precise guidelines for all aspects of charitable giving – how much to give, who is considered needy, what are considered worthy causes, orders of precedence etc.
Your precise question was addressed by none other than Maimonides himself (comm. to Mishna, Pirkei Avot 3:15). The mishna in Pirkei Avot, when discussing man’s judgment in heaven, states: “It all depends on the volume of deeds” (or “the majority of deeds”). The meaning is cryptic, but Maimonides sees a beautiful lesson in it.
Maimonides explains this to mean that when performing good deeds, quantity matters. Performing small good deeds many times is more significant than doing a single great act. It is thus better to give $1 a thousand times than $1000 one time.
The reason for this is clear. Every generous act we do makes an impression upon us, training us to become more caring individuals. One of Judaism’s great psychological beliefs is that if we act a certain way, we will ultimately grow into our behavior. We are our deeds much more than our thoughts. Therefore, in giving charity our emphasis is equally on the effect it has on the giver as on the benefit gained by the receiver.
For some criteria on which causes to favor, see this response.