Friday, November 20, 2009

The Gift of Strength

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7 (cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 249: 6-13)

There are eight degrees of tzedakah, each higher than the next. The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid. With reference to such aid, it is said, “You shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 25:35), which means strengthen him in such a manner that his falling into want is prevented.

From the Ground Up

Unlike many organizations involved in fighting hunger, AJWS generally doesn’t provide food handouts. While this might appear to be a good short-term solution – and we do give food relief during times of disaster, such as the 2004 tsunami or the cyclone in Burma in spring 2008 – it’s an ineffective way to end global hunger and, in some ways, actually perpetuates it.

AJWS’s philosophy is predicated on the highest rung of Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, which is designed to make the recipient self-sufficient. Or drawing on other traditions, our approach is aligned with the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Of course, it’s not just about men and it’s not just about fishing. But people want to be able to feed themselves and need to do so if they have any hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty and oppression that leads to hunger, generation after generation.

AJWS supports more than 80 projects in Africa, Asia and Latin and Central America that are fighting hunger themselves – from the ground up.

See also: Dryland Permaculture

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