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Eight Degrees of Giving

Some nine hundred years ago, Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides idenified eight levels of charity. Giving of ourselves is good, but only insofar as we try to respect and preserve the dignity of the recipient. Charity, according to Maimonides, could be money or other forms of assistance.

The eighth and lowest level of charity is giving grudgingly. It is better to give than not to, but those who do not give with a willing heart are not likely to have the recipient's best interest in mind.

The seventh level of charity is giving willingly, but inadequately. Inadequately here refers to knowing the recipient's need and being able to meet it but willing to give a lesser amount. Still, a willing gift is better than a grudging gift.

The sixth level of charity is giving generously, but only after being asked. It can be very difficult for most people to admit they need help. Still, if you give enough to meet their needs, you may help to begin restoring their dignity.

The fifth level of charity is giving generously without being asked. If you know people in need, try to anticipate what you can do to help. Look for opportunities to make a difference.

The fourth level of charity is giving anonymously, where the recipient knows the giver but the giver does not know the recipient. Charity can be difficult for the recipient because it creates an unbalanced relationship. To prevent yourself from having a superiority complex, give anonymously.

The third level of charity is giving anonymously, where the giver knows the recipient but the recipient does not know the giver. It may seem paradoxical to put this one higher than the previous one, but the purpose here is the inverse of the previous level: to prevent any feelings of inferiority in the recipient. Protecting the recipient's dignity is paramount, according to Maimonides.

The second level of charity is giving anonymously, where neither party knows who is on the other end of the gift. This protects the recipient's dignity and prevents the giver from feeling superior to the recipient.

Finally, the first and highest level of charity is giving in a way that helps the recipient become self-sufficient. This is the concept expressed in the old proverb, "Give a man a fish, and he'll have food for a day; teach him to fish and he'll have food for a lifetime." There is no better way respect the dignity of the recipient than to help them to live in such a way that they no longer need charity.

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