Sunday, 25 November 2007

Old advice on doing better with charity

If you've ever given to a poor person unwillingly, you should know there are seven higher degrees of charity Jewish philosopher Maimonides inferred from the Torah.

To do better next time try giving a poor person gladly, with a smile.

Even better, give to those in need when you are asked.

If that doesn't feel charitable enough try giving before you are asked.

Next level up means giving without knowing who receives your help but they will know you were the benefactor. In Maimonides's times the custom was for "greatest sages" to pack coins in a scarf, sling it over their shoulder and let poor people pick out coins not seeing who they were and thus avoiding embarrassing them.

When the roles are reversed you can move up a level: you know who you are helping without them knowing who you are. There were righteous men who would put coins in poor people's doorways secretly.

When neither side knows the other you are almost at the top. A guy or gal recently gave $100 million to a town in Pennsylvania this way.

There is but one level left, the greatest: when you help someone get on their feet so that they no longer need the help of the community. A Silicon Valley geek taught a whole Stanford class how to make Facebook Apps although these are presumably paying students and this would not classify as an act of charity. It may just be good teaching.

Oh and read this article mainly as an effort to connect those two interesting stories into one entry.