July 25, 2024

Nevidut and the Virtue of Generosity Explained

Colel Chabad International Awards Dinner

Anyone familiar with Jewish values or the teachings of Chabad rebbes knows our faith places a deep emphasis on altruism. However, some have a surface-level understanding of that religious maxim. Simply donating to a good Jewish charity every few months is commendable, but short of the full meaning of compassionate giving. We all have the internal capacity to embody the Jewish value of nevidut, or generosity, in our daily lives to a greater extent.

In this article, we will explore the significance of nevidut in Jewish tradition, contextualize its meaning in relation to other Jewish values, and provide practical guidance on how to cultivate this essential trait in our everyday lives. 

What Does Nevidut Mean?

Nevidut, derived from the Hebrew root meaning ‘to give freely,’ encompasses an openness of heart and a willingness to share oneself fully with others. The principle is rooted in the belief that humans are created in the image of G-d, and by emulating divine attributes of generosity (kiddush hashem), we fulfill our highest potential.

Contrasting Nevidut and Tzedakah

There’s a difference to be noted between the virtue of generosity and the mitzvot (commandments) of philanthropy and tzedakah (charity). Generosity is a middah, or characteristic, innate to individuals. It’s a personal trait that some possess more naturally than others, much like kindness or patience.

On the other hand, philanthropy and tzedakah are specific actions or practices. These are not necessarily tied to one’s innate character but are instead rooted in religious or societal obligations. They represent concrete ways of giving that can be learned and implemented, regardless of one’s natural inclinations.

Being Generous vs. Possessing the Virtue of Generosity

Donations to Jewish charities against poverty and other staple causes provide an excellent contrast between nevidut and obligatory generosity. There are people who donate on Chanukah and recognize the philanthropic traditions associated with the meaning of Passover, Purim, and other charitable holidays. These acts of giving, while commendable, may stem more from social expectations or cultural norms rather than a deeply ingrained sense of generosity and humility (anavah)

In contrast, those who embody true nevidut often go beyond these prescribed moments of giving. They consistently seek opportunities to help others, not out of obligation, but from a genuine desire to improve the lives of those around them.

The distinction becomes apparent in the regularity and spontaneity of giving. While holiday-based donations are important, they represent a scheduled form of philanthropy. Nevidut, however, manifests in unexpected acts of kindness and support throughout the year, often without prompting or needing recognition.

How Nevidut Relates to Core Jewish Values

The idea of giving without expectation of reward resonates deeply with every Jew’s purpose of repairing the world. It speaks to the power we all recognize in synagogues and communities, as defined by the popular phrase ‘kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,’ or ‘All Jews look out for one another’. Our history as a people and the strength of the global diaspora today are evidence that communal responsibility sustains and uplifts. 

Highlighting the Virtue of Generosity in All Its Forms

Meaningful justice through charity (tzedek) can look like many different things. In practice, it might manifest as supporting orphans’ charities, groups for widows, or organizations that address food insecurity. Actions are just as powerful as tangible contributions – so long as they are driven by a genuine desire to help others.

Everyone Is Capable of Being Generous

Anyone can make an impact regardless of gender or social status. Some of the most well-known Jewish philanthropists came from different backgrounds and had more time than money to put into community healthcare projects and children’s education programs. Yet that’s just as, if not more valuable, according to the Eight Degrees of Giving. It doesn’t matter how much one decides to donate, but rather the frequency and intention of those contributions.

Personal sacrifice and reward have a part to play as well. The Torah teaches charity is at its most meaningful in cases of anonymous giving. Individuals who put other souls first without the expectation of receiving anything in return have genuine intentions at heart. 

Use Jewish Tradition to Cultivate Nevidut

Nevidut has tangible and psychological benefits for givers and receivers alike. It’s just one small aspect of Judaism’s larger emphasis on the importance of community, compassionate giving, and mutual responsibility. Individuals are encouraged to build the world with kindness in other ways – like through acts of hospitality (hachnasat orchim), respect for human dignity, trust, hard work and service

In practice, this can look like anything from visiting the sick to signing up to volunteer with charities that protect the poor through advocacy for ethical and just laws. Recognizing good and perpetuating it every day is just like other behaviors in that it requires habitual practice.

Some Jewish traditions, such as tithing (ma’aser kesafim), help make integrating a lifestyle of nevidut easier. Money for wheat, pe’ah (corners of fields left for the poor), and other forms of tzedakah (charitable giving) are also built into Jewish law and practice. All it takes is the will to embrace and beautify tradition. Luckily, online giving platforms make doing so easier than ever.

Colel Chabad: Nevidut by Nature

Colel Chabad is one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in Israel. Our history stretches back to 1788 when prominent Chabad leaders first began distributing charity through community groups. Hundreds of years later and those same support networks for families in need are relied on by thousands. We work across Israel to share the loving-kindness (chesed) of the Chabad movement with individuals of every age, race, and background. Anyone can turn to us for tangible support, prayers and blessings in their time of need.

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Get Involved, Donate Online Today

Colel Chabad’s mission of saving souls is made possible by everyday male and female Jewish philanthropists just like you. We rely on donations to keep critical programs funded and operational throughout the Jewish calendar year. All contributions go a long way in supporting Israeli families’ plights for peace at home amidst these challenging times of dire need. Help us in our efforts by getting involved today.


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