middot generosity daily living cheap generosity

cheap generosity

Written by  rabbi michael schiffman

art-tightwadA friend on facebook sent me the following craigslist advertisement:

“I have an unused bad of corn meal mix that I am not using. Any needy or hungry person may come and get the bag of cornmeal IF you can prove to me that you are indigent and NEED this cornmeal. Do NOT apply if you are on food stamps, welfare, have section 8 housing OR if you are gainfully employed and can afford your own cornmeal. Also no one that has a Christmas meal with other types of bread available (i.e. rolls ), no pot or cigarette smokers, no drinkers, no gamblers , no gays or lesbians or atheists OR if you have no oven to bake the cornbread in. Good luck, let the applications begin and I will decide who gets the corn meal mix by 6 p.m. Buttermilk for mixing NOT included.”


I was appalled at this ad because of the miserable attitude of its author. It makes you wonder why a person with that attitude would try to give anything to anyone at all. Whatever the motivation, it could not have been a genuine concern for the needy. Having an attitude like this embarrasses people in already humbled circumstances.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve seen this attitude in people. When I am out speaking on behalf of Chevra, invariably, I get quizzed by people who want every dime they give to go to a soup kitchen. While I would like that as well, I am stuck with the realities of making this ministry work. We have to wire money every month to the soup kitchens and to those who make up food parcels for distribution. The bank charges us to make international wires. They won’t do it for free. The people who make up the food parcels and do the distribution, as well as the people who work in the soup kitchens, have families to feed and bills to pay like everyone else. They need to be paid so they can live. If we depended on volunteers to do all the work, people would be fed only when volunteers got around to it. You can’t feed people when its convenient for volunteers. You need to have people who are going to be there when people need to be fed. It is simply impossible to send 100% of donations and think there will be no expenses along the way.

fair wage for the laborer

I understand people want to make sure their donations don’t get diverted to overhead and wasted expenses, and I appreciate that. I hate waste when people are hungry. We try to keep our costs down so we can send as much as possible to the needy, but it still costs money to operate, as I mentioned above. The best we, or any organization can say, is that we seek to do as much as we can with what we receive, and that whatever doesn’t go for costs of operation goes to feed the hungry. To honestly evaluate us or any charity, the best thing to do is look at the work we are doing and see if its something you can get behind. In this economy, we are doing the best we can with the least amount of overhead. Paying a worker is part of the delivery system of feeding people. In a sense, it’s all part of it. Without it, people would simply not get fed.

As for the attitude of the writer of the craigslist ad, he made such an issue over who could get his measly bag of corn meal, so that the “wrong” person wouldn’t get it, that almost no one would have qualified, or those who would have qualified, wouldn’t bother. It reminds me of the story of a rabbi was renowned for his kindness and generosity towards people.

One day, his students, who thought he was foolish in his giving, followed the people he gave money to. At the end of the day, they confronted him saying he gave money to 50 people, and out of those people, only one was truly in need. They asked if he felt foolish for giving money to 49 people who probably didn’t need it. He said, on the contrary, he was thankful that he didn’t let 49 people who didn’t really need help prevent him from giving to the one person who really needed it.

While we try hard to give to those who really need it, we try not to turn anyone away. Feeding people means having an attitude of generosity towards the people we help. I encourage everyone, in their giving, to be as generous as they can be. It helps others, and is good for your soul.

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