Why Give Ma’aser?
Giving tzedaka is not just a nice thing to do: it is one of the defining characteristics of klal yisrael as a people. Pirkei Avos states that there are three pillars on which the world stands: Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim (deeds of kindness). According to the Aruch Hashulchan, tzedaka is a crucial aspect of gemilus chasadim.
The commandment to give of your means to help somebody with less is both a positive and negative commandment:
“Rather you shall open your hand to him.”(Devarim 15:8) “You shall surely give him”(Devarim 15:10)
“You shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother”(Devarim 15:7)
Our Rabbis tell us of the many blessings associated with being scrupulous in giving tzedaka, which they categorize as greater than all of the other mitzvos combined! Some of these teachings include:
It is forbidden to test Hashem on any of his promises except with regards to Tzedaka. Hashem promises that he will not lose from giving and will even gain more than what he had given (Tur & Rema).
A blessing for anyone who is merciful with the poor that Hashem will be merciful with him.
Giving tzedaka saves one from an unordinary death and from the judgment of hell (Bava Basra 10a).
Teshuvah, prayer and tzedaka remove the evil decrees (Mussaf prayer on the high holidays).
Nobody will ever become poor as a result of giving tzedaka and no bad thing will ever come from it (Shulchan Aruch).
They stress the importance of being careful in observing this commandment, since it is even possible that a poor person may die of hunger waiting for the person of means to donate (Shulchan Aruch).
A Jew should strive to realize that poverty is like a wheel that rotates in the world; it is cyclical. Even if he has the means to give today, it is likely that he or his descendants will find themselves in need of others’ charity and kindness. Chazal promise that if a person is merciful with others now, others will be merciful with him or his descendants when they need it most (Rema).
The Gemara relates that the evil Turnusrufus asked Rebbe Akiva “If your God loves the poor so much, then why then does he not sustain them?” Rebbe Akiva answered” In order to save us from the judgment of hell” (Bava Basra 10a).
The giver of tzedaka surely receives more than he gives. If a person can afford it, he should give whatever the poor need. If he can’t then ideally he should give a fifth of his income. But in any event he should not give less than a tenth (Shulchan Aruch)