We left off in Part 8 talking about how we should not let our left hand know what the right hand is doing when it comes to giving alms. This means we should give “in secret” and not blow a trumpet before us when we want to give the appearance of giving. An article on alms in the Jewish Encyclopedia says “If you give alms do not do it before witnesses. If you give with the right hand, do not tell it to your left; if you give with the left, do not tell it to your right. Any one who gives and has witnesses, it shall not be accounted to him.”
Almsgiving was seen as an offering brought to God; “They that give alms to the poor, give it to me,” says God, for it is said: “My korban, my bread” (Num 28.2). Surely God needs no bread, nevertheless he says: “I count your gifts as though you were my children supporting their father” (Midrash Zutta, Cant., ed. Buber, p 23; compare the exact parallel in Matt 25.45, where Jesus speaks simply in the name of God, the Father of all).” The Jewish Encyclopedia also says this about charity; “These seven branches, mutatis mutandis, mentioned in rabbinical literature, are (1) feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty drink; (2) clothing the naked; (3) visiting the sick; (4) burying the dead and comforting mourners; (5) redeeming the captive; (6) educating the fatherless and sheltering the homeless; (7) providing poor maidens with dowries.
It is interesting to notice the changed conditions in Palestine during the first century, when Queen Helena of Adiabene (she was very famous. She converted to the “Judaisms” of her time and lived near the Tigris river near the Caspian Sea. She donated a huge Menorah for the front of the Temple and had a residence in Jerusalem) during a great famine bought shiploads of wheat and figs to aid the starving, and her son Izates sent great sums of money (some say his whole inheritance) “to the foremost men in Jerusalem for distribution among the people (these men acted as the “Gabbai Tzedekah” and took up funds)” (Josephus, Antiq, xx.2).
The leading maxim was that the poor should never be put to shame by receiving charity (Hag 5a). Maimonides (“Yad,” Mattenot ‘Aniyyim’, x.7-13) enumerates eight different ranks of givers of charity: (1) he who aids the poor in supporting himself by advancing money or by helping him to some lucrative occupation; (2) he who gives charity without knowing who is the recipient and without having the recipient know who is the giver, i.e. in the manner charity was practiced in the chamber of the Hasshaim (Essenes) in the Temple at Jerusalem (Mishnah, Shekalim 5.6); (3) he who gives in secret, casting the money into the houses of the poor, who remain ignorant as to the name of their benefactor: this was done by great masters in Israel (Ket 67b), and should be done whenever the public charity is not administered in a proper way; (4) he who gives without knowing the recipient, by casting it among the poor, while the recipient knows who is the giver; (5) he who gives before he is asked; (6) he who gives after he is asked; (7) he who gives inadequately, but with a good grace; (8) he who gives with a bad grace.”
In a midrash on the book of Leviticus it says that there is an admonition to us to take personal interest in him and not simply to give alms (Vayikra Rabbah 34). When you give, we should be involved with the recipients to make sure we are not giving money to imposters. There are people who make their living off charities.
Now we are going to talk about biblical prosperity. There are six words in Hebrew for prosperity. They are: Tov, Shalom, Shelev, Tzalayach, Shalvah and Shalev. Not one is linked to financial wealth, but they are linked to Shalom (peace). So you can have a person who is “poor” but not in God’s eyes, and this person can be very wealthy in spiritual things (Job 29.12-20). In Proverbs 31.10-31 we have the Woman of Valor or as others know it, “the Virtuous Woman.” This is recited on the Sabbath to the woman of that particular house. There are 22 verses, each beginning with the next Hebrew letter in the alphabet, from “Alef to tav.”This indicates God’s blessing in total perfection. We see in verse 20 that “she spreads out her palms to the poor and she stretches out her hands to the needy.”
Now we know that “righteousness” in Hebrew is the word “tzedekah” and tzedekah means charity. This has to do with a Spirit-led, merciful giving. Biblically, a righteous man means he is a giving person also. Tzedekah is an obligation from one person to another. This can include hospitality. In Gen 18.1-15 we see the basis for the Laws of Hospitality when Abraham played host to three visitors, who later were identified as angels.
Another type of giving is seen in 1 Kings 20.31 where it says that the kings in Israel were merciful kings towards their enemy. Israel was taught to not hate their enemy, but they were to defeat them. Many Israeli leaders follow this and are exploited by their enemies, but mercy is an attribute of a righteous leader.
Everything we have been discussing is a part of private types of giving. Now, we are going to talk about “public” types of giving. The Men of the Great Assembly (Nehemiah, Mordechai, Ezra and many others, ending with Shimon Ha Tzedek) organized a public type of giving. Before the destruction of the Temple, the “Judaisms” of the time were “aggadic” and “midrashic” which means concepts were conveyed through storytelling and parables.
After the Temple was destroyed and the many “Judaisms” were destroyed also, the Pharisees reorganized things the way they saw things (they survived as a group after 70 A.D. and the Temple was not their platform like it was with the Sadducees). As a result, “rabbinic” Judaism developed in the image of the Pharisee’s and it became more “halachic”, which means they stressed “how to walk” in their ways to the people and it was very detailed. Read the Mishnah to get an idea of what this means. For example, the parable of the “prodigal son” is found in the Babylonian Talmud where it discussed Rosh Ha Shannah. The parable is quoted in the movie “The Chosen.”
But, before the Temple was destroyed, a man named Shimon Ha Tzedek was the head of a group called the Chasdim, a forerunner of the Pharisees. They will be in conflict with the “Zadokim” or Sadducees in English. The Chasdim divided charitable work into the seven branches already named above. These seven branches were likened to a seven branched Menorah which gives “light.” During the Mishnaic times (200 B.C. to 200 A.D.) teachers were called the “Tannaim” which means “repeaters” or “teachers.”
During this time, each city had charity boxes called the “chuppah” or the “korban” and these were used to support the needy. Money was given before the Sabbath for meals and clothing for the week. Travelers were given money to get them through one day. If the needy needed help on the Sabbath, they were fed but no money was exchanged. There were “soup kitchens” called the “tamhoi” available to give immediate help for emergency relief. The tamhoi, the chuppah and korban charities were in the charge of three elders, who formed a “beit din” or a court. They were probably not the synagogue elders or beit din, but they were trustees of the community charity.
Paul talked about taking up funds for relief of those in Jerusalem because he followed the practices of the Pharisees of the first century, which the believers in Yeshua were a part of. The only difference between the believers and mainstream “Judaisms” was the believers accepted the believing non-Jews into the Kingdom of God, where some of the “Judaisms” at large required full conversion of the non-Jews. We have discussed this concept in other posts. In Part 10, we will pick up here with the beit din (courts) and applications, accountability, personal and public giving and how it does not go to support paganism, and other concepts related to tithing and biblical giving.