Giving with Dignity

Yael Eckstein  |  August 27, 2020

Yael giving dignity and fellowship to an elderly Jewish woman
Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. — Deuteronomy 24:10-11

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Ki Teitzei, which means “when you go out,” from Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19.

One of the lessons that I learned from my dear father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, is that not all giving is the same — and that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. While the act of giving financial support might look the same on the outside, the intention and approach of the giver can make all the difference.

There is giving that diminishes the receiver. Sometimes, a recipient might be made to feel that he or she “owes” the giver something, be it exaggerated honor, total compliance, or something else. Other times a recipient might be made to feel judged or disparaged by the person helping them.

However, there is also giving that uplifts the receiver. It’s possible to give in a way that makes the recipient feel loved and cared for. There is giving with dignity where the benefactor doesn’t diminish the beneficiary, but honors and respects the person regardless of their financial needs.

In this week’s Torah portion, God makes it clear that we need to give charity in a way that helps the recipient without diminishing his or her dignity.

Among the laws laid down in this reading, Scripture teaches that when a person gives a loan to a person, he or she may not enter the home of the recipient in order to collect the collateral. Rather, the person receiving the loan must bring the collateral out to the lender. Such delicate sensitivity protects the dignity of the person receiving the loan. The Torah continues and explains that if the item of collateral is the borrower’s coat, the lender must return it at night if the borrower is poor, so that he will not go to sleep cold. Again, we are encouraged to help the person in a truly thoughtful manner.

We must always remember that it is a blessing to be a “giver” in this life and we must take on that role with joy and humility. Whether we give of our time, our money, or our talent, we must be mindful of how we treat the recipient. Dignity is as important as anything physical we can give, and we are truly blessed when we can give a person material support and uplift their soul.

Your turn:

Think about the ways you can give to others that let them know they are valued and respected.