1. The spiritual significance of charity
The Jews had just sinned in the most unforgivable of sins, having witnessed God himself present the Ten Commandments in which in which they were enjoined “There shall be no other gods before me” and yet a golden calf was commissioned, served, and celebrated.
God’s wrath kindled, the faithful shepherd of his people, Moses, went up to Mount Sinai to plead for forgiveness; Finally God said to Moses, “I have forgiven them as you requested.”
In the times of the Temple all forgiveness was accompanied by a sacrifice – Moses wondered what kind of remarkable sacrifice would the Jews need to bring to atone for the most unforgivable act.
A half shekel!
A half shekel? Moses asked incredulously! In modern lexicon, “are you telling me that 50 cents is enough to buy off God!?”
And so God explained, by showing Moses another half shekel:
One made out of fire!
And Moses understood.
Do you understand?
How does fire answer the question?
The answer is that money is like fire.
A fire can be a good thing, for example in cooking food which saves humanity
It can be a bad thing, as in a fire that destroys a home G-d forbid
Or it can just be, a plain old coin, neither fire for the good, nor fire for the bad.
This is the fundamental worldview of Jewish mysticism.
There are many societies that believe to reach God you must leave the physical; there are others that leave God embracing the physical as if it is some kind of hidden sin in which they delight. In their nearsightedness both however see God and the world as two separate entities.
Jewish mysticism sees only one reality, that which is united and that which is not united with God.
This is the message of the fiery half shekel; that which serves God, that which is united with God in fulfillment of his desire, needs no great fanfare, for it is God himself and the essential essence of reality need not more then itself for exultation, for it is the very essence of goodness and all that is holy and noble.
Someone – a great Rabbi asked the Holy Baal Shem Tov the founder of Chassidus, what I call modern Jewish mysticism – for advice from his famed teacher, the prophet Achiyah Hashiloni whom together they studied the greatest mystical secrets for over a decade, in a cave on the outskirts of town. The Baal Shem Tov replied, to give a few coins to charity daily.
The modern successor of the Baal Shem Tov – ninth in a line of successors, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn would also advise people, often to give a few coins a day as a spiritual remedy for physical problems.
They say, that when the coins clang into the charity box angels are created!
In the Jerusalem Talmud, a vast body of Judaic law, whenever it mentions the word mitzvos (good deed) it means charity.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged all Jewish homes to have a charity box on their kitchen wall, in the children’s bedroom, in people’s offices and in their cars, attributing great power to the spiritual remedies these could provide you with.
Again it is the very conversion of something neutral – neither holy nor unholy – into the will, intent, desire of God.
In other words, the entire universe exists for this conversion, everything that man achieves is in this elevation, integration, sublimation and unity of God within the material.
Dr Emoto a Japanese scientist has demonstrated this beyond a shadow of doubt, you can see his pictures on the internet.
The thoughts, prayers, intentions, meaning, feelings and ultimately purpose for which we say and do things get physically implanted in the very fabric of reality!
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch walked by a spot and he related to his two boys, “over here a Jew prayed Minchah, the afternoon service 115 years ago.”
You and I cannot see this light, or we need special sensors to reveal it to us, but God and his holy mystics can.
It is for this reason charity is such a life sustaining – all encompassing form ost Judaic mitzvah, not so much for in what it achieves rather in how much it elevates.
We often see the world through our perspective, but there is another perspective, what is called in Jewish mysticism daas elyon the perspective of heaven.
In the heavenly perspective money is not seen for how much, rather for how useful; not so much how rich someone is rather, how valuable is that money.
For example, one of the greatest Jewish philanthropists was a Jew by the name of Moses Montefiore.
Even in the good olden antisemitic days, he was knighted by Queen Victoria, who asked him for his worth? When he told the Queen how much, she replied “but Moses we all know you are worth far more than that?!”
That is how much I have given to charity!
Sir Moses knew that value is not, in what you own, but in what you give!
Rabbi Schneur Zalman, in the Bible of Jewish mysticism the Tanya elaborates explaining that as money is the very sustenance, thus when one gives what could have been a piece of bread for oneself away, it is far more representative of giving than say just a hug (which of course is also important.)
So to summarize, this world is a challenge to give instead of hoard.
2. Charity and Redemption
Zion will be redeemed through justice and her exiled returned through charity
This statement more than any other prompted Rabbi Schneersohn, the most practical and greatest living mystic in our day, to literally give away millions upon millions, but more importantly encourage others as well in the giving of charity.
From 1986 to 1992 he stood Sunday after Sunday, meeting people from all walks of life – primarily Jews but many gentiles as well – giving them a crisp dollar bill freshly minted / hot off the press (quite literally,) in order to encourage them to increase charity (for his dollar was kept as a memento and others substituted for charity instead.)
In fact the very last message of the Rebbe to the world is that there are three levels in charity in Judaism:
1. Ten Percent
2. Twenty Percent
Today more than ever we have sterling examples of a complete revolution in people’s attitudes towards money.
The truth is money can be similar to bagels; the person who desperately needs food cherishes it the most; the person – like most of us in the west today – that expects there always to be food, cherishes it not and hence has a healthier relationship with it.
In the olden days when money was literally life and death, people had an irrational reverence, like a hungry man towards bread; but in our modern age we can stop for a moment and contemplate the meaning behind money.
For example, billionaire Chuck Feeney the founder of the Duty Free shops, jokes how to become a millionaire: “Start with billions, give it away to charity, leaving a few million to live off,” which is exactly what he did.
Billionaires Bill and Melina Gates have invested half their personal fortune – the largest in the world at the time – into their charitable trust, but more importantly, donated as Chuck Feeney all their time into the distribution, implementation, research and contribution of their incredible wealth, leaving the desire to amass more to others.
Of course we would be remiss if we would not mention the second richest man in the world Warren Buffet who gave away over 50 billion to charity leaving himself with a billion in shares in his own company – designating the Gates Foundation as the distributor of his funds, with the stipulation that it must be given away within a few years after receiving the money.
The latter two gentlemen have created a separate organization to encourage all millionaires and billionaires to give half their wealth to charity.
Indeed the Rebbe prophetically writes, that if we desire God to go beyond his natural world and return the exiles into Israel – a supernatural event, we too must initiate this process by going beyond our natural desires to amass and give our money away.
3. The eight levels of charity
There are eight levels – one higher than the other in charity – from the Rambam Maimonides.
 The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow by endowing him with a gift or loan; or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him; in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.
 A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah/good deed solely for the sake of God. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Hananya ben Teradyon.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.
 A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes so that they would not be ashamed.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.
 A lesser level than this is when one gives begrudgingly.