December 18, 2015

It’ll be a sad Christmas for Paul Smith’s College in New York, as they won’t be receiving the $20 million pledged by Sanford and Joan Weill.

Their pledge was “grinched” by a judge who forbad the school to be renamed after Joan Weill. Apparently, the college’s founding mandate is to forever be called Paul Smith’s college. No renaming and, therefore, no money.

Had the Weills consulted the wisdom of 13th century Rabbi Moses Maimonides they may not have welched on the deal. Maimonides wrote the “Eight Degrees of Charity” to inspire a level of generosity that rises above simply getting your name on a building.

Lest you consider yourselves above the Weill’s kind of reneging, let’s countdown Maimonides’ list and see where your motives place you in yuletide charity.

8. Giving unwillingly. The Tibetan Buddhist Trungpa Rinpoche called this “Idiot compassion.” The problem is that we’re only giving because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable for our own wealth.

7. Giving cheerfully but giving too little. This happens when we drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle. We smile generously, but we know a buck is woefully inadequate.

6. Giving only when asked. This can be a large or small gift, but no matter the amount, we give only because we’re pressured to give.

5. Giving without being asked. This giving comes about during our search for a genuine need. It’s depicted in the old Kaiser Cement Corp slogan — “Find a need and fill it.”

4. Giving to those we don’t know, while making sure they know who we are. We make sure the recipient knows who we are perhaps because we need them to be indebted to us. Confession time — I find it hard to go higher than this one.

3. Anonymously giving to someone you know. Perhaps you give your pastor $200 to buy clothes for the Jones’ family and whisper, “Don’t tell them who gave this gift.” It’s a high form of giving, because it concentrates on the need and doesn’t solicit applause.

2. Mutual anonymity — Neither the donor or recipient know of each other. This is hard because there’s simply no payback for you at all — no building with your name on it, no gratitude and no tax deduction.

1. Giving your time or money to help someone become self-reliant. This is best illustrated in the saying, “Give a person a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” It’s extremely difficult, because your gift is really you.

This type of giving is the radical kind Jesus introduced in Mark 12 after he observed a poverty-stricken widow giving all she had in the form of two coins worth half a cent.

““Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

While most of us haven’t topped Maimonides’s sage list, I wonder what would happen if we’d aim for at least the fifth level where we give without being asked.

It’s simple enough. Start by going to the website where you can pick a legitimate charity and contribute something before the charity has to spend the money to ask you.

I can’t be sure, but if Maimonides were alive today, I suspect that’s what he’d do.

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