“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” — Exodus 22:25
In Judaism, the word for charity is tzedakah, which literally means, “righteous giving.” This concept goes far beyond the traditional understanding of charity. It is not just an act of kindness and benevolence — it is an act of justice and righteousness. This is one of 12 devotions focusing on tzedakah and how we can incorporate its lessons into our lives. To learn more, download our complimentary Bible study on tzedakah here.
Among the many laws mentioned in Exodus chapter 22 are those regarding the way we treat other people, including the poor and needy. While in many societies, those living in the lowest social strata are ignored or despised, the Bible repeatedly commands us to take care of those in need with dignity and respect. We are commanded to see them as no less valuable than ourselves, and perhaps even more so.
Just take a look at what God has to say: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy . . .” The Jewish sages point out that when God speaks about people who are in need, He refers to them as “My people.” As Abraham Lincoln once put it, “The Lord must have loved poor people because He made so many of them.” Indeed, God has a special love for those in need.
Shlomo Carlebach, a popular rabbi in the 1960s and 1970s, was known for his unbounded love for all people. But the ones who topped his list were those in need. There are hundreds of stories about how Rabbi Carlebach would go out of his way to greet and help those on streets asking for handouts. He had a special way of addressing them, too. He would say “holy brother” or “holy sister” when talking to them and call them “holy beggars” when talking about them. Because that is who Rabbi Carlebach believed they were – holy beings here to help us just as much as we are here to help them.
In fact, the sages taught, “More than the rich man gives the poor does the poor man give to the rich.” What does this mean? What can a poor person do for someone who has everything?
A wealthy person may have every material and physical thing, but there is more to be had in the spiritual realm. The poor help the wealthy by giving them the opportunity to serve the Lord and earn great heavenly rewards. As it says in Proverbs, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (22:9).
So next time someone asks you for help, or you spot someone in need, remember they represent precious, holy souls. God calls them “My people.” If they are His people, surely, they should be “our people” as well, and we should treat them with dignity, respect, compassion, and love.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President