It happens. You give money for tzedakah, to someone you were told needs it desperately, and the next week you see them driving a brand-new car.
Maybe not exactly a new car, but ...
I remember we once gave tzedakah to a family, and the following week I saw the mother in a toy store, her arms full of toys, up to her eyes.
When she saw me she flinched, and I did too. For a second.
Then I thought, Just because she needs money, her children don’t deserve toys? Maybe it’s for her grandchildren. They don’t deserve toys? Because she needs money, does that mean she — as a mother and grandmother — shouldn’t have the ultimate pleasure on Earth, giving to her children and grandchildren? And maybe someone gave her a certificate to this toy store.
It took a minute of work, but it passed, kind of.
I have a close friend who counts out pennies to buy milk every week. When she gets her weekly package from a chesed organization, she’s beyond herself with joy. One week they sent her double, and she had more than enough, so she gave some things to another woman she knew didn’t.
The next week the woman in charge of sending the packages calls, “You have enough to give away?” she grills my friend, who didn’t understand what she was feeling after the conversation. She asked me, “What did she mean?” I explained: “It’s hard for people after all their efforts to see that maybe you didn’t really need. They feel tricked.”
“But aren’t I also allowed to give?” she asks. “I walk around in old shoes, and old clothes because I’m embarrassed that if I should look nice, people would say, ‘She takes money and buys new clothes’$$separate quotes$$”
She goes on, unable to hold back, “I sent my son with a bag of chips on his last trip, and I was petrified the school would see it, and think ‘They can’t pay tuition but they can squander money on treats?’ But doesn’t every boy take a treat on a trip?” she asks. “I live in fear. I’m embarrassed because I don’t have, and I’m even more embarrassed if I do have.”
“Listen,” I said, “you are doing those people a huge favor. Look how much suffering you are doing to make sure they have the mitzvah of giving tzedakah. You do that for them. The Ohr HaChaim says that they’re only holding the money for you; it’s not theirs. When the world turns upside down, we will see who really did the favor for whom.”
My mother-in- law a”h always said, “If someone holds out their hand, you have to give.”
We try the best we can to see that it goes to the right ones.
My friend goes on to tell me that once a woman came to check her house to make sure she was poor enough, so when she came she opened the refrigerator to see if there was food. When she opened the refrigerator, there was nothing in there but a small container with some leftovers, and my friend thought, “Oh no, now she thinks we have food.”
I know of another woman who every week scrapes the bottom of her baby formula box in dire fear that there won’t be enough. But for some strange reason the town’s chesed organization refuses her request for help. One day, she got ten shekels from someone right before Shabbos, and she decided “I’m going to buy my children colored licorice. She handpicked each strand, and as she finished filling the little plastic baggie, she looked up to see the head of the chesed organization staring.
The truth is sometimes this happens to me when I go shopping, and I have to make decisions — do I really need this? What constitutes need? And sometimes, I don’t ask myself these questions, because I just want whatever it is.
But if I would be completely honest, I’d evaluate how G-d might view each purchase. And, how G-d views each time we give.