The HeART of Chessed: Giving, without Giving too Much

Chaya D. Nelken, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2018

MyLife Essay Contest 2018


One of the three main identifying factors of our nation is that we are full of kindness and compassion . Loving our fellow just like ourselves is a general idea of the Torah and giving to others is a basic principle of our lives. But how do we know if perhaps we are being too kind? What is the balance of giving to others, but at the same time not giving too much?

Many such scenarios play out in our day to day lives.

Whether you’re a busy mother, with a neighbor who constantly needs your time and emotional support. Or you’re a hardworking young man, with a relative in a very bad financial state who constantly turns to you for monetary help.

How do we know what the limit of giving to others is, whether it’s a friend, relative, or co-worker? Whether it’s giving spiritually, materially or emotionally?

The Importance of Giving

G-d created this world with a great amount of concealed light, and this world was plunged into a state of darkness. It is our job to reveal that light, and allow G-d’s infinite rays to penetrate this world. The vessel for this great light to shine is through acts of Tzedaka, giving to others . The measure of light drawn down is equivalent to the act of giving that is done. With that said, the more generously one gives of himself, the greater the degree of light that’ll be drawn down . G-d provides us with everything we own, our life, health, wealth and everything we need to be sustained. He also provides us with extras, whether it’s a monetary, spiritual, or emotional bonus, and this is intended for us to give to others. Often, a person will be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest gadget, or spend hours surfing social media, but will have a hard time handing a beggar a few dollars for a sandwich or spending a half hour with a depressed friend. When a person stops thinking about themselves for a moment, they are more willing to give. When one puts their selfish needs aside, they energize the other with life and happiness, creating a new reality for them. This is something that can only be done through acts of giving. That is why the Mitzva of giving Tzedaka is so great, and is equal to all other Mitzvos . We can see this great emphasis within our own community. We have countless organizations to help those in need, such as orphans, childless couples, addicts, the sick, widows etc. Even without volunteering to such organizations, we have the opportunity and obligation to give in our own personal and daily lives.

The Obstacle in Giving

Numerous of studies have shown that the happiest people in this world are givers. At the same time, studies have shown that the unhappiest people are the givers. Many peope over-give, exerting themselves for the sake of another. It is very hard to find that balance of constantly giving unselfishly, but at the same time not getting worn out and stepped on. For those of us with the “giver” personality, we are faced with this decision often. We want to give, and we know we should, but sometimes we just need to stop. When should we give selflessly even when it’s a burden, and when should we stop giving because it’s a burden?

Luckily, with the teachings of Chassidus and our seven Rabbeim we are given the tools to implement and guide our decisions into the right and balanced path.

Giving to Others, but Giving to Yourself as Well

A young mother was offered to be the dorm mother in Machon Chana , during the time when she would usually be home taking care of her children. She wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, asking what is more important, taking on this act of constant giving or being there for her children. The Rebbe responded that first and foremost are her children, for they are her primary focus. Of course a person must constantly be involved in helping others and giving, but it can’t take away from one’s personal Torah learning and performance of Mitzvos. Real giving comes from a G-dly place, and if giving is done at the expense of following the guidelines of Torah and Jewish Code of Law, then that giving is no longer true giving. If giving to others means giving up one’s personal connection with G-d, then one has no right to sacrifice that connection . The power of Tzedaka and giving is so great, however if the bestower’s Torah or prayer are lacking, then their Tzedaka won’t be able to affect . This doesn’t just apply to one’s spiritual health, but to one’s physical, emotional and mental health as well. If giving to another is going to drain a person, causing burnout, or emotional distress, then that giving must be limited. We are required to serve G-d with complete happiness and joy , and if over-giving to another is going to prevent that, then what is the purpose of such giving? To give to another, one must have what to give. Therefore, a person has to give to themselves as well. That means one has to give to them self time, energy, care and thought, just like he would for his friend. When one realizes that they are giving to themselves for the sake of giving to their friend, they are no longer acting in a selfish way.

The Red Heifer ~ A Metaphor for Balanced Giving

The commandment of the Red Heifer is the most famous super-rational commandment in the Torah . In the times of Moshe and the temple, if a person touched a dead body they became ritually impure and needed to go through a purification process. A priest would sprinkle the ashes of the Red Heifer purifying the impure, and as a result, the priest would become impure. The ashes were divided into portions and one of these portions was put away as safekeeping for the Jews. The following is a chart that breaks down the laws and details of this Mitzva as well as translating it in making decisions in giving in our life:

Commandment and details… 

The commandment of the Red Heifer is mentioned in the Torah as “This is the super-rational commandment of the Torah…” It doesn’t make any sense, yet it must be done. Despite the fact that a priest becomes ritually impure by purifying his fellow Jew’s impurity, we can’t ask questions on this Mitzva, and the priest is required to just do it.

In terms of giving…

When it comes to helping a fellow Jew, it doesn’t matter that you need to give up your own time, energy and resources for another. This is an obligation of the Torah that you must follow, like we learn “Love your fellow as you love yourself.”

Commandment and details… 

The ashes of the Red Heifer are used to purify someone that became ritually impure by being in contact with a corpse, which is the severest kind of impurity. The person is not able to enter the Temple, eat from the sacrificial meats and other prohibitions. Becoming pure isn’t an obligation on their part, and if the person would want, he can remain impure his entire life. The only way for one to be purified is when he wants and is ready to go through the process

In terms of giving…

One of the signs that you should or shouldn’t be helping someone in need is based on the receiver’s desire to get out of their current situation. If you’re constantly helping someone who doesn’t care about helping themselves and is just taking advantage of you, then you should stop giving. They have to realize their state of “impurity” and try to step out of it on their own. By giving into one’s manipulation you are depriving them of developing life skills, and ultimately that is only taking away from them.

Commandment and details… 

This commandment was an unpleasant job for those involved. The holy priests have the most sacred responsibilities in the Torah, and at times, they are given seemingly lower job, such as this, which had to be done with the same care.

In terms of giving…

A person has to give to another in all circumstances, even when it is an unpleasant kind of giving. One who gives when it’s a “high and holy” opportunity, or when it’s for publicity isn’t giving properly. Such giving comes from a completely selfish state, and the person expects something in return. In such a case of giving, if the person doesn’t receive what he expects, it can lead to depression, low morale etc. That is why it is so important to give from the proper place, giving for the person’s sake and not for your own.

Commandment and details… 

The red heifer used in this process had to be complete, for it to be used. If it had even two strands of black hairs or carried a yoke during its lifetime it wasn’t allowed to be used for the purification process.

In terms of giving…

When helping another, you need to be complete yourself. You can’t have your own challenge that you are burdened with at the time. If helping another is going to cause you to neglect your own situation then you should refrain from giving. In order to be able to give you have to have a complete heart, because one can’t give from an empty heart. You also have to know if your giving is coming from your own lacking. Many times, givers have a low self-esteem and they think they are only good to give to others. If that is where your giving is coming from, it is not the proper place. You must make sure that you are emotionally healthy and content with yourself. Otherwise, you will get worked up and exploited of.

Commandment and details… 

After the ashes of the cow were burnt they were combined with guarded spring water to be sprinkled on the impure.

In terms of giving…

Torah is often times compared to water . Invest time and energy and possibly get tainted by helping your friend, but guard your ‘water’. Guard your Torah and Mitzvos properly and make sure that you aren’t sacrificing your own spiritual service. When giving to someone, give within the boundaries of Torah and its teachings.

Commandment and details… 

At the end of the process, after the priest sprinkles the ashes on the impure, it is no longer within the priests ability to purify. The impure must immerse in a Mikva, a ritual bath, to become ritually pure.

In terms of giving…

Sometimes, no matter how much you devote yourself to another, you will never be able to lift them out of their situation. This is not your fault; rather it is because of the person’s state of ‘impurity’ that is too severe. Sometimes you invest and toil, and even become unpurified yourself, but then you have to let go, stand back and leave it to Hashem. When you are stuck in the same situation in giving someone, and nothing seems to progressing, stop giving, even if it’s hard for you and our friend. Part of giving is knowing when you know longer capable of handling the situation on your own and admitting that someone’s problems are greater than what you can handle. After that recognition, let go and let them seek help from another, more beneficial source.

Commandment and details… 

The ashes used for the red heifer was divided into 3 portions, and one was put away as ‘safekeeping’ for the Jews.

In terms of giving…

By all means we must give to another, but we must always have something saved for ourselves as well.

Questions to ask before giving:
• Am I giving the person the most I am capable of?
• Am I giving and helping for the recognition and publicity? Or am I giving out of selflessness because the person needs it?
• Does the person I’m helping want to get out of their situation and they need my help? Or are they taking advantage of my personality?
• Am I always helping this person, and does this person always need my help? (this is a sign of a co-dependent relationship)
• Am I going to be neglecting my own personal needs and challenges by helping this person?
• Am I jeopardizing my own spiritual standing and connection with G-d in doing this act?
• Am I doing all I can to help, but at the same time allowing G-d to do His thing?
• Am I taking care of myself right now that I am able to give to another?
• Have I been giving to this person for an extended period of time to no avail?

(Additional Method ~ A Spiritual Mentor & Support From Friends)

In each portion of ashes that were used throughout the years, there was a portion of the ashes of Moshe’s Red Heifer . The power of Moshe, and the Jewish leader in every generation, gives us the power to give another, even those who are “ritually impure”. With that said, we need the guidance of our generation’s leader, the Rebbe, to make sure we are appropriately giving and taking care of ourselves. One of the direct ways that the Rebbe told us he would constantly guide us is through a Mashpia, a spiritual mentor . A Mashpia has the strength from the Rebbe to answer questions, give clarity, and guide us to the right decisions in our life. As humans, we are subjective to ourselves, and not always can we properly asses a situation we are in . These situations include deciding whether or not we should be giving to another. By having a mentor, who has a subjective opinion, together with the strength of the Rebbe, we are able to make focused and grounded decisions in how to give. The directive of having a spiritual mentor comes from the same part of the Oral Torah , as the directive to “acquire a good friend”. Surrounding oneself with good friends and confiding in them for advice is another way to help guide one’s decisions. Proper friends will be straight forward and honest and help one in areas they are lacking, such as over-giving in a non-biased way.


In order for something to come into existence, it must have a limitation . Without a limitation, it’s considered nothing. The same is with Chessed, giving. We need to give because that’s what we were put down into this world to do. There are so many people around us need of love, time, care and money, and they are placed in our lives to be able to give to them. But the giving must also have a limit, because otherwise it’ll all be lost. True giving to another is knowing when to give and when to stop giving. So next time you are faced with a dilemma, whether to give or not to give, think about the person, and then think about yourself. Do you have some “ashes” stored away for you to lift up your friend right now?