Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in honor of the birth of his daughter – in order to make the world a better place for her and everyone else – pledged 99% of his Facebook shares (which are currently worth $45 billion dollars) to charity. He explained that the money would be used towards feeding the hungry, curing the sick, educating children, etc. I posted his message on Facebook, noting that such a tremendous act of giving was very, very holy, but I was met with some pushback by some Orthodox readers, not to mention all the people online who bashed him for donating this money as a tax shelter, when in fact Zuckerberg explained that his money would not be protected from taxes.
A few of our readers scoffed at the idea that “repairing the world” is an important Jewish value. “If he’s not ‘religious,’ why should we laud him?” they wanted to know. While my being inspired by his incredible generosity does not mean that I agree with every last thing that Mr. Zuckerberg thinks or does (I don’t know him well enough to make that call!), I was pretty offended by the Orthodox Jews who were undervaluing “giving” altogether! It is troubling to me that for some religious Jews this principle hasn’t been stressed enough.
Years ago, I met a completely secular Jewish woman at a party. She had no formal Jewish education, but she explained to me that in college she began learning about how low the quality of life is – in terms of food and clean water – for so many people in Africa. Instead of just thinking about it for a moment and then going back to her busy life, she hopped on a plane to Africa and began helping the people she heard were suffering. She has dedicated her life to this mission. She had never learned about Avraham Avinu (Abraham our forefather), who embodied the value of loving kindness, but thousands of years later, she was following in his footsteps.
As she described her story to me, I got chills. Why? Because she had done a holy act – a Godly act – an act centered around selflessness and giving, and I believe that whenever we read a story or see a video about someone who similarly lifts up the fallen or gives strength to the weak – we get those “fuzzies” or “chills” because our soul is connecting to something spiritual and holy and Godly.
Does that mean that “being a good person” is the total package in Judaism? No. According to Ethics of the Fathers, “The world stands on three things: Torah, service (i.e prayer), and acts of loving kindness.” Of course I strive to do them all, but not everyone has the same education and not everyone comes to the same conclusions even if they do. But if one of the foundational points of the world is about performing acts of loving kindness, then believing and practicing Jews should commend and encourage that type of behavior, whenever and wherever they see it. And if they don’t, perhaps it is they who need to brush up on their Torah.