Sustaining the Poor among Us

God makes us responsible for helping others who are in need. Where do we begin? The world is full of need. A person could exhaust all his resources giving to those in need.

The Torah says that if a countryman of ours becomes poor, we are to sustain him and assist him (Leviticus 25:35). The Hebrew word translated as “countryman” could literally be translated as “brother.” This teaches that our first responsibility is to our own family. When a family member is having difficulty putting food on the table, his immediate family must offer some assistance. The next level of responsibility is in regard to our brothers and sisters in Messiah. In the Master, we are all family. The needs of a brother or sister in our local congregation should take precedence over the needs of a stranger. In addition, our greater extended family includes all Israel. Even Jewish people who do not confess Yeshua as Messiah and Christians who do not acknowledge Torah should be regarded as family members for whom we all share responsibility. Finally, the Master extends the definition of brother to include every human being.

We are all brothers and sisters in the family of Adam. The order of priority for giving charity can be understood as follows:

  • 1. Immediate family
  • 2. Extended family
  • 3. Congregational family
  • 4. All Jews and Christians
  • 5. All human beings

There are many ways of helping the poor. The best means is not to give a gift of money but to help a person become self-sufficient. The old adage about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish holds true. Simply throwing money at a situation might do more harm than good.

For example, suppose a man in your congregation is struggling to provide for his family. The congregation comes around him and gives him a gift of money to pay his rent and buy groceries. Relieved by the influx of cash, the man does not seek a means to improve his situation. A month later, he needs money for rent and groceries again. His brothers and sisters come to his rescue, and the situation perpetuates itself.

A better solution would be for some men in the community to sit down with the struggling person, help him sort through his finances and come up with an achievable solution: perhaps a better job, or a less expensive place to live, or maybe cutting out some unnecessary expenses. Our goal should be the success of all our brothers and sisters.

Still, a person should set aside a portion of his income every month for financial assistance. In Jewish communities, ten percent is considered a minimum amount to designate for charity. Giving generously to the poor was one of the main thrusts of the Master’s teaching. Over and over He encourages us to give to those in need. A life of discipleship requires a commitment to philanthropy. Even a poor person who is struggling financially should give. Let the rich man give from his riches and the poor man give from his poverty. God will bless both in return.

Source: Torah Portion