My Wife Objects to My Charitable Giving

Thanks for the opportunity you give for questions, I have long been reading and studying the Jewish wisdom from you and it’s quite interesting. My question is that for many years I have lived a life of having human sympathy when it comes to charitable contributions. As I write to you now, with my less income I have an orphan in school and a widow I care for.

I have been challenged by my wife to stop bringing financial burden on the family, but that is the only source of Joy I derive in life.

How can I take this vision to the next level?

Jonathan A.

Dear Jonathan,

We have just published an ebook called, The Holistic You: Integrating Your Family, Finances, Faith, Friendships & Fitness. (Go HERE to get your free copy.) We thank you because your question is a perfect example of why these five areas need to be seen together, rather than separately.

You mention that the charity you give is an expression of your human sympathy.  What is more, you write that the giving you do brings you your only joy.

Let’s look at both those statements. If you are a person of faith, then charity is actually an obligation, not an expression of an emotion. Whether or not we feel like giving some of what we earn to others is irrelevant. Most of us do feel happy when we do something for other people, but our responsibility to do so is independent of how it makes us feel. Our emotions don’t decide what we do; even if giving makes us feel deprived, we still must give. God lets us take a 90% commission on what we make, but the remaining 10% does not belong to us. Feeling sympathy for others is a fine trait, but how one acts on that sympathy is what defines us.

It seems that you are pitting faith, finances, and family against each other, rather than letting them work together. If you can say that the only source of joy in your life has nothing to do with marriage and family, then you really need to work on your marriage and family. Instead of charity being a shared activity with your wife as you together choose where your donations should go, you are demeaning your wife by making your “joy”  compete with her reality.  (Susan here: If I heard my husband say that his “only joy” was in something external to our marriage and family, I would be crushed.) We have no way of knowing if your family is actually suffering because you are giving away more than you should or whether your wife only feels that way, but in either case, you need to step back and change what you are doing. It sounds to us like you might have been neglecting your role as a husband.

Whatever charity you give must be given by you and your wife as a couple. Any money you earn belongs to the two of you. If you are giving more than you can afford because it brings you joy, then although it may be more socially acceptable than breaking your budget and causing your family to suffer because you get joy from buying designer clothes or fancy cars,  it does share a similar self-centeredness.

All we have to work with, Jonathan,  is what you wrote. It seems that your income has diminished and you, independently of your wife, decided how to function within your lessened means. You put something “off the table” rather than working together to cope with your new circumstances.

In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for ‘charity’ explicitly suggests obligation rather than an emotional response. The Bible is clear on to whom to give, how to give, and indeed how much to give. Neither too little nor too much.

Perhaps we are being harsh. We encourage you to direct your finely tuned sense of compassion and empathy first to your wife and family and only then extend the circle of sympathy outwards to others.

May you find joy from your marriage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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11 thoughts on “My Wife Objects to My Charitable Giving”

  1. Thank you for this response. We were taught at a young age ‘charity begins at home then spreads abroad.’ As I came to the knowledge of God and learned about giving, I placed myself on a budget and included giving as part of it. I want charitable giving to be part of my life.

    1. Rhenechia, how much better of a world we would live in if charity was a part of everyone’s life. Our point is that it is a part – not to be elevated above all other equally important areas.

  2. We are saddened by the passing of Rabbi Sacks and hold both Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Lapin as the two most wisest and best articulators of our time. I have printed Rabbi Sack’s
    Weekly Torah thoughts for years abd shared it on our Shabbat table. I would love to do the same from you.
    Are all your wise incites only on line?

  3. My wife and I are deeply saddened by the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He had the talent to take a complex issue and present it concisely and clearly. We shall miss him dearly.

    Our two favorite Rabbis we followed online were Jonathan Sacks and Daniel Lapin. And then there was only one. Please take care of yourself, Rabbi. It appears as if none of us is in our 20’s anymore….

    1. Erv, we, too, were deeply saddened at Rabbi Sacks’ death. He was an articulate leader and a wonderful transmitter of Jewish wisdom. A less universally well-known but also great leader, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein passed away as well last week. The world is certainly diminished by both these men’s absence.

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