Charity is a virtue, whether you help the needy or donate to an institution or a house of worship. However, motives for doing good deeds are not always clear. This week’s clergy discuss whether public benevolence redeems a sinful life.
The Rev. Rick Saladon
Associate pastor, Living Water Church, Riverhead
Doing acts of charity is good for the heart and soul. These acts of selfless love and kindness not only make us feel better about ourselves, they help connect us with our fellow man. At the heart of Christianity is the understanding that Jesus’ death on the cross was a one-time payment for all sin, for everyone, for all time. Those who have invited him into their lives to be their personal Lord and Savior have had their sins erased by his payment. When Jesus was crucified, two other men were being executed with him. One mocked him. The other said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43) It’s really that simple. The condemned man was not going to get another chance to do an act of charity to try to erase his many sins. He had nothing going for him except a repentant attitude, an acknowledgment of who Jesus was and the willingness to connect with Jesus. Jesus did the rest. I think most of us can agree that Mother Teresa was the embodiment of charity. I believe she would have agreed that her life of charity was an expression of love and gratitude because of her relationship with her Lord, Jesus Christ. However, her sins were only erased by faith in Jesus, faith in the truth of his claim to be the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, and faith in his love for her and all of mankind.
Rabbi Eli Goodman
Chabad of the Beaches, Long Beach
“Tzedakah (charity) is equal to all the other commandments combined.” (Talmud, Bava Batra 9a) This quote clearly illustrates the importance of charity in Jewish thought. Why does charity play such an integral role that it is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins? The High Holiday liturgy repeatedly states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity) can alleviate the decree. Quite a number of explanations in the Torah deal with the greatness of charity over all other commandments. Very few commandments require the investiture of one’s entire being. You eat kosher with your mouth, learn Torah with your head, light Shabbat candles with your hands, hear a shofar (ram’s horn) with your ears. Even those commandments that engulf the entire body, such as sitting in a sukkah or dipping in a mikvah, do not involve a person’s total abilities and energies as well. The majority of people spend most of their days toiling to earn money to maintain or better their standard of living. When a person sets aside a portion of that money that could have been used to nourish his life, and chooses to give it away to charity, he is not sanctifying merely his food, some other possession, a limb of his body or his mental capabilities; he is giving up something in which he invested his entire self for God’s sake. By sinning, one prioritizes oneself over God. Through charity, one rectifies that mistake directly, by giving over one’s entire being for a cause higher than oneself.
President of the Long Island chapter of Gayatri Pariwar
According to Hinduism, karma (action) could be categorized as either paapam (sin) or punya (good deeds), based on the intention with which it is performed. The Law of Karma states that good karma bears good results and bad karma brings bad results. One’s karma determines the types of experiences one attracts in one’s life on earth. For example, good karma brings forward the experiences of pleasure and enjoyment, while bad deeds cause people suffering and pain. Each act of paapam and punya creates corresponding experiences in richness and fullness. In Hinduism, charity is considered an important part of one’s dharma or moral duty. When charity is performed selflessly with no expectation of gaining anything back, it becomes a good deed. While charity-based punya can definitely attract good experiences in one’s life, it cannot erase their paapam. However, good deeds along with the help of true spiritual masters could minimize the intensity and effect of sins rather than erasing them completely. The Bhagwad Gita mentions two main ways to eliminate our sins. The first one is by learning the truth related to our existence as a soul and presence of God through a spiritual master. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge based on truth and by receiving this transcendental knowledge, sins could be resolved. The second way is to completely surrender to God through devotion or Bhakti. Once we are devoted to God, our actions can no longer be sinful. Therefore learning the spiritual truth and submitting ourselves to God are two important pillars of living a sin-free life.