Ethics Now & Then 88 – Avot 5:16

Pirkei Avot 5:16

There are four attitudes among those who give charity: One who wishes that he should give and others should not, begrudges others what is theirs; [one who wishes] that others should give and he should not – he is grudging towards what is his own (a miser);  [one who wishes] that he should give, and others too – he is pious (a chassid); [one who wishes]  that neither he nor others should give – he is wicked.

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There are four attitudes among those who give charity: 

The Sages assume they are addressing those who know the teachings of God and understand the basic attributes of goodness, compassion and kindness. A chief principle among these is that of giving from one’s own resources to the needs of others – tzedakah. The fact that the verse refers to two personalities who do not give, highlights that there are those who choose to go against their conscience and who resist the innate generosity that characterizes a child of God. The Psalmist well describes those who give with the right attitude of heart:

It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs
with justice. …He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.
(Psalm 112: 5;9)

One who wishes that he should give and others should not, begrudges others what is theirs;

How can one be willing to give and yet begrudge the giving of others? If not enough is given, not only are the recipients deprived of receiving what they need but the possible giver suffers the loss of the eternal reward of performing a righteous, charitable deed. The Hebrew words used to describe the first two attitudes offer some understanding.  עֵינוֹ רָעָה  Ayino ra’ah – He has a ‘bad eye’ on other’s possessions or on his own. We find references to generosity, and the concept of a ‘good eye’ versus a ‘bad eye’, in other verses of Avot. For example, Rabbi Eliezer, in Avot 2:13, says that the key to following a good path in life is a “good eye” – an open and generous nature. The ‘bad eye,’ on the other hand, indicates a possessive and envious nature and, in Avot 2:16, is said to “…drive a person out of the world.”*

In this first case, it seems that the person wants to receive the honor of being a philanthropist and one who gives generously but he begrudges others the same honor. Rather, as one gives with an open, healthy attitude, giving tzedakah should also inspire others to give to those in need and to good causes.

 [One who wishes] …that others should give and he should not – he is grudging towards what is his own (a miser);

We all are faced with constant choices to nurture our “good inclination” ( yetzer ha’tov ) or to succumb to our yetzer ha’rah – the inclination towards evil. A miserly attitude reflects the latter and is epitomised by the “tight fist” rather than an open and giving hand. This individual exhibits a possessive selfishness over his assets rather than a willing generosity to share what he has with others.

[One who wishes] …that he should give, and others too – he is pious (a chassid);

The righteous chassid understands that giving to the work of God and to others does not make one poorer. The prophet Malachi describes how God challenges His people that by not bringing their tithes to the communal ‘storehouse’, nor making contributions to the needy, they are in fact robbing Him.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. And thereby put Me to the test,” says the Lord of Hosts, “if I will not open the windows of Heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (3:10).

As the wise Solomon declares, “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). The true blessings of a righteous giver are the riches that will endure for eternity. Yeshua makes the almost impossible suggestion to the righteous and wealthy leader who wishes to gain eternal life: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:16).  A willingness to keep a light hold on our earthly possessions, and to give and share generously when the opportunity arises, carries not only the joy experienced in the act of generosity but also the promise of eternal reward.

[One who wishes] …that neither he nor others should give – he is wicked.

The hard-hearted individual neither has any inclination to give nor does he wish to see others giving. Perhaps when he is aware of the generosity of others it stirs his conscience somewhat and, as a result, he may actively discourage their giving when he can. This can take very subtle forms that a selfish person may resort to unconsciously. One’s attitude and actions, for which one must take responsibility, have a significant influence on others; particularly, for example, that of parents upon children or of prominent figures and those who look to them as role models.

God’s Word constantly emphasizes charitable giving and warns against a selfish hardening of the heart.

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, … you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart …and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake” (Deut. 157-10).

The apostle Paul highlights the importance of both the act of giving and the attitude of the heart in his second letter to the Corinthians:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” **

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Footnotes:

* William Berkson, PIrke Avot, 167

**2 Corinthians 9:6-7

3 thoughts on “Ethics Now & Then 88 – Avot 5:16

  1. The Greatest Giver in me has made me like himself. And like Himself in
    Yeshua, Yacshua; “firstborn of many
    brethren”, I am one. Being perfect
    himself in Yacshua; “first begotten
    from the dead”: G_D will raise me up in the first resurrection only because l was crucified with Christ, Mashiach; and nevertheless lived to
    give. Furthermore l will live forever
    giving YACWAY the glory! Hallelu
    Yah! :)♡

  2. I’m reading a fiction story about a man that sounds like the first one, “One who wishes that he should give and others should not, begrudges others what is theirs.” The fellow uses his giving to his family as a way to make them dependent on him, which gives him control over them. He doesn’t want them to prosper or give as that would mean they are breaking away from his control. I know this type applies to other benefactor situations when done with the wrong motive, but I’m not sure I would have understood this type if I hadn’t read a fiction story. lol

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