No Food Before Helping Those in Need

One spiritual leader's approach to the relationship between giving and taking.

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In telling this story, the author has extended the sense of tzedakah to include acts more properly designated gemilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness], but the theological point is nonetheless clear. Reprinted with permission from Being Jewish, published by Simon & Schuster.

There is a story of a Hasidic master, Rabbi Meyer Hurwitz, who taught that the obligations of almsgiving were as great as the obligations of daily prayer. Just as a pious Jew does not eat until he or she prays, Rabbi Hurwitz would not eat until he did an act of charity. Usually this was easy. A beggar would approach him on his way to the synagogue. A congregant would need a word of encouragement. He would visit a sick neighbor or one in mourning. But one day, no one approached him. No one in his town was ill, and no one was in mourning. He went to his study and refused to eat all day. How could he take God’s food, he said, if he did not imitate God by giving to others?

 
Ari Goldman

Ari L. Goldman, one of the nation's leading religion journalists, is a professor of journalism at Columbia University and the author of three books, including the best-selling The Search for God at Harvard.