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daily living Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Fri, 23 Mar 2018 05:08:26 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb generosity as stewardship http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/676-generosity-as-stewardship http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/676-generosity-as-stewardship

art-mudprintOne of my favorite jokes is a story of a group of scientists who, convinced that they don’t need God anymore, proceed to attempt to prove it by making a human being out of the dirt (like he made the first). They do quite well and God decides to let them know how nice of a job they did but, to be fair, if they really wanted to prove they didn’t need him anymore they should get their own dirt!

Do we really own anything? Yes we work hard for our pay, buy things, sell things, etc. Capitalism is far from functional if we don’t have a respect for ownership and commerce. Still if we look objectively at the world and our very lives everything belongs to God. Generosity takes on a whole dimension of meaning when we realize that we are stewards of gifts given to us. In a world where millions die of starvation I haven’t earned the right to have a full belly more than anyone else. In a country where unemployment is still so ubiquitous I don’t necessarily deserve a job more than anyone else. I have worked hard, but mostly I am blessed through no particular superiority over anyone else. For me the choice to be generous is intimately connected to the belief in, and love of God. God has been so generous to me. God demonstrated his generosity in teaching, works, life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua. If it is God’s desire that we be conformed into the image of Messiah Yeshua then generosity ought to be basic.

In times when resources seem limited, it can be scary to be generous. No one wants to be a fool who gives away what is needed for one’s survival. Nevertheless, Scripture puts an emphasis on those who give generously as being right with God and in line with his will. How can we lose what was never meant only for us anyway? When it seems scary to give, we would all do well to think of God who is the true owner of all, and who is the model of generosity.

daily living Sun, 24 Jun 2012 18:56:32 +0000
time and generosity http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/623-time-and-generosity http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/623-time-and-generosity

art-clockI am increasingly aware that time is one of the most valuable things in my life. There is so much to do and so little time, as the saying goes. My chevruta and I have often discussed the role of time in the middah of generosity.

With time being the thing we often feel so short on, we have realized that our time may be one of the most generous things we can offer. This is not some convoluted way to get around monetary tzedakah….that is still important! Rather we’ve discovered that time is something that makes others feel loved and honored in a way that a check often doesn’t.

Think of your favorite gifts. If you’re like me, they are the gifts in which the giver put a great deal of time: the djembe my uncle made me, the translation/commentary on the Mishna my fiancée gathered many of our friends to contribute to, the kippot friends have hand-knit for me, etc. Think of hard times in your life. It is likely the people who took the time to be with you in those tough moments that stand out the most. Giving of our time may be the most meaningful gift because it is the very thing all of us feel we have little of. With that said, time may be the thing we “own” the least!

God is the true source of all provision, but time is unique. We work for many things but the time we have is only ours inasmuch as God has granted us time to live. We do not really own our time. In this way, the time we have is God’s greatest generosity towards us. Holding this perspective can help us all realize that we have an opportunity to pay forward every moment of time given to us out of God’s most generous heart. Time cannot be saved the way money can. Time will always be spent. However, you can “invest” time. When we invest our time the right way through giving of it generously we may find olam haba on the other side. I pray all of us can hold our loved ones a little longer, play with our children a little longer, prepare a gift a little longer, smile at a stranger a little longer, listen to our friends a little longer, and commune with God a little longer…it’s worth the time!

daily living Sun, 25 Mar 2012 03:52:18 +0000
generosity as an attitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/585-generosity-as-an-attitude http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/585-generosity-as-an-attitude

art-giveWhen people think of generosity, they usually think of gift giving, especially during the winter holidays.  The focus is on what you give and what you get.

On an everyday basis, most people in public are bombarded with homeless beggars offering to work for food, and on television we see pictures of hungry children in third world countries. Most of these appeals are touching at first, but wind up being no more than an annoyance after the third or fourth time you see them. The desire to help others degenerates into giving to appease a guilty conscience because we have and they don't.  Eventually, we become numb to the whole thing.

Generosity is more than simply writing a check, or digging into your pocket to give to the needy. Generosity is an attitude, and and should translate into all our interactions with others. When you give someone the benefit of the doubt, that is generosity.  When you are kind to someone who really doesn't deserve it, that too is generosity.  The way we treat other people is the most accurate reflection of generosity.

For me, generosity comes from my gratitude toward God for all He has done for me.  Every blessing in my life is a reminder of the abundance of God's goodness.  Because I have been so blessed, I can afford to be generous with people.  I can give to the needy, I can spare the time to listen to a person's problems and give them comfort, I can take someone who has fallen, and help them get on their own two feet.  We can afford to be generous because God has been so good to us.

When I meet people who are stingy with their money, or with their time or energy toward others, it makes me wonder how grateful they are toward God.  When we really appreciate what God has done for us, it enables us to be generous.

I know people who make excuses to not give.  They say the beggars use the money to buy drugs and alcohol.  They say all the donated money for the TV begging goes to pay for air time.  I think we have to use wisdom when we give, but we also need to be willing to take a chance that we might be doing some good by giving.

There was an old rabbi who was known for giving to the poor.. One day his students followed him around all day to see who he was giving money to.  The rabbi gave help to 50 people.  Of the 50, 49 were frauds. When they confronted the rabbi with this fact, they asked if he felt foolish helping the 49 people who didn't need it.  The rabbi said he was thankful to God that he didn't let 49 people stop him from giving to the one person who really needed it.

The parables of Yeshua are all about the generosity of God, but also about how we need to be generous toward others.  Because Man was created in the image of God, the way we treat others is a true reflection of how we feel toward God.  True godliness can not exist apart from human decency.

daily living Thu, 29 Dec 2011 18:51:05 +0000
generous speech http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/581-generous-speech http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/581-generous-speech

art-luminariaAs it is said, And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. . . .

And with all your might means with all your wealth. Another interpretation: With all your might means with every measure that he measures out for you, thank him much. —m.Berakhot 9:5

The Sages interpret the unusual Hebrew word me’odecha in the Shema (Deut. 6:5), translated "might" above, to mean “substance,” “resources,” or even “wealth”—which gives us a perfect text for the middah of generosity. We express our whole-hearted love for Hashem by practicing generosity toward others. This generosity can take various forms, as Alan Morinis describes:

You have money in your pocket, so you give money. You have no money but there’s food in your home, so you give food. There’s no food in your home but there are ideas in your mind, so you give helping words. There are no words in your mouth but there is love in your heart, so you offer your heart itself.

I’m not quite out of money or food, but generous speech is the option that grabs my attention this week. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just completed the middah of silence. I’m not too bad when it comes to refraining from damaging or frivolous speech, and I’m learning to practice contemplative silence as part of my morning prayers. Like every middah, however, silence of the right kind requires balance. We need to avoid the extreme of keeping silence when it’s time to speak, time to break the silence with “helping words” that affirm and build up others. The right balance to silence is generosity of speech.

The other night (it was Christmas Eve, actually, I must admit) we were walking some out-of-town guests through a local neighborhood that was all lit up with luminarias along its walkways and roof tops. Luminarias are little paper bags with candles inside to give a soft glowing light—a beautiful old New Mexico tradition. It was freezing and I was leading the group back toward home base when we started to suspect that we were headed in the wrong direction. Our friends’ daughter pulled out her smart phone, checked the GPS, and said we needed to do a 180. Embarrassed I said, “Well, I guess I got us lost for the past three blocks,” and she replied, “We weren’t lost; we were just exploring”—a rather generous way to put it, I thought, and felt encouraged instead of embarrassed. 

So, this week, coming out of a week emphasizing silence, I’m looking for chances to practice its opposite by speaking words of encouragement. I have a feeling that opportunities to give helping words will be abundant.

daily living Sun, 25 Dec 2011 19:51:25 +0000
cheap generosity http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/418-cheap-generosity http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/418-cheap-generosity

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.

daily living Thu, 17 Feb 2011 00:56:00 +0000