THE dispensing of charity according to one’s means is a positive precept, which demands greater care and diligence in its fulfilment than all the other positive precepts of the Law. For its neglect may possibly lead to the taking of life, inasmuch as the denial of timely aid may compass the death of the poor man who needs our immediate help.
Whoso closes his eyes to this duty and hardens his heart to his needy brother is called a worthless man, and is regarded as an idolater. But whosoever is careful in the fulfilment of this duty attests himself as belonging to the seed of Abraham, whom the Lord hath blessed: ‘For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do Zedakah and justice’ (Genesis 18. 19).
Charity is the main foundation of Israel’s pre-eminence, and the basis of the Law of Truth. As the prophet says unto Zion: ‘By Zedakah shalt thou be established’ (Isaiah 54. 14). Its practice will alone bring about Israel’s redemption: ‘Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with Zedakah’ (Isaiah 1. 27). Charity is greater than all sacrifices, says Rabbi Eleazar; even as it is written, ‘To do Zedakah and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice’ (Proverbs 21. 3).
Whoso pities the poor shall himself receive compassion from the Holy One, blessed be He. Let man further reflect that as there is a wheel of fortune revolving in this world, perchance some day either he himself, or his son, or his son’s son, may be brought down to the same lowly state. Nor let it enter his mind to say: ‘How can I give to the poor and thus lessen my possessions?’ For man must know that he is not the master of what he has, but only the guardian, to carry out the will of Him who entrusted these things to his keeping.
Whosoever withholds alms from the needy thereby withdraws himself from the lustre of the Shechinah and the light of the Law.
Let man therefore be exceedingly diligent in the right bestowal of charity.
JACOB BEN ASHER, 1320.
(Trans. A. Feldman.)