The Best Kind of Tzedakah

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor, tells us to leave the corners of our fields unharvested for the poor – this is one of the most famous commandments of the Torah. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger…”

Note that God doesn’t tell the Jewish people to give some of their crops to the poor, but rather to leave some of their crops for the poor. What’s the difference? The difference is enormous.

For those in need, it makes possible the option of, perhaps at night, gathering sustenance in private. It can be very difficult to accept handouts, and this can make it less uncomfortable for the one who needs assistance. 

So what is the modern equivalent, when few of us are farmers with a harvest from which to leave the corners and gleanings? We may not have crops, but most of us do have plenty to share with others: our time, our expertise, and of course, our financial resources. And whatever we give, to allow for the modern equivalent of gathering sustenance privately in the cover of night, it is best to give it anonymously. Shhh.

You may be familiar with Maimonides’ Eight Degrees of Tzedakah, where the giving of charity is broken down into eight levels. In ascending order, they are: 8. giving a donation grudgingly 7. cheerfully giving less than one should 6. giving directly to those in need after being asked 5. giving directly to those in need without being asked 4. giving to one whose identity you do not know, but they know your identity 3. giving to one whose identity you know, but they don’t know that it was you who gave to them 2. giving so that neither you nor the recipient know each others’ identities 1. helping another become self-supporting, in order to negate their need for charity.

Note that as anonymity increases, tzedakah rises in degree and intrinsic ethical value. Helping another become self-supporting is the only level of giving higher than a double-blind anonymous gift.

I challenge you to actively engage in double-blind giving by becoming members of the Secret Mitzvah Society. To belong to the Secret Mitzvah Society, one must perform good deeds surreptitiously, engage in guerilla acts of tzedakah, and – this is important! – tell no one, not even your spouse. (Unless it’s a joint secret mitzvah.) 

It’s a wonderful exercise in humility. If you slip up and tell someone about your secret mitzvah, you have to keep doing it, and then you have to find an additional secret mitzvah. That’s the rule. 🙂

A secret mitzvah can be big, such as namelessly donating to charities. I personally love when I see a list of donors to a cause, and one or more of the donors is noted as Anonymous. 

Or a secret mitzvah can be small, such as putting a quarter in someone’s expired parking meter, especially if you see an officer coming down the street carrying a ticket book! Such a small act, with a relatively large impact for the stranger who doesn’t know you saved them from a ticket that day! 

An anonymous gift removes the focus from the giver, and places it squarely on the act of tzedakah itself. There is no expectation of gratitude or accolades, or reward aside from just feeling good. It is a pure act of tzedakah.

Leave your modern ‘corners and gleanings’ by keeping your good deeds and gifts a secret! Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) are good. Anonymous mitzvot are best. Imagine if we all sneaked around each day, furtively improving the lives of others, in ways large and small, wearing detective-style fedoras and dark sunglasses. 

Give your time; share your expertise; spread your wealth, with stealth. It will do your soul good.


Cantor Jacqui

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