Luke 6:38 Give, and it shall be given unto you.”
There never really has been a Jewish systematic theology.
However, there is a whole body of folk doctrine. This folk doctrine doesn’t concern itself so much with abstract concepts of God, but the way that I saw it, Jewish thought was more concerned with the practical question, “What should we do when God ?”
I was a depression baby, born in 1932. The Depression was harder on the Jewish people in Denver where I lived than it was on non-Jews. Most of my family was involved in small businesses which went bankrupt before I was born. Many days we only had one meal to eat, and that consisted of kasha (buckwheat groats). We never thought of ourselves as being poor, because everyone else was poor. No one in our family would have applied for any kind of welfare, because of the pervasive belief that Jews take care of other Jews. It was a shameful thing to be “on relief.”
It was part of the common Jewish folk doctrine to regularly count your blessings, to believe that the Almighty was regularly bestowing good things. Anyone today could look back and see that we were impoverished. But as long as we did the works of charity, and gave to the poor, we knew that we were not poor. We knew that we would be blessed with prosperity.
One of the ways that the poor Jews of our neighborhood would give to charity was through a little device called a pushka.” The pushka was a tin box, with a slot like a bank, about three inches wide by four-and-a-half inches high, and an inch-and-a-half thick. It was my mother’s practice to put a coin in the pushka to show God that she knew she had received a blessing.
We had two pushkas in our house; a white one which was for a Yeshiva (a Jewish academy of learning), and a blue one which was for the Jewish National Fund. The Jewish National Fund is an organization which is committed to the work of reforestation in Israel . Though my mother didn’t know much about ecology, she knew that when she was “blessed of God” she could give something to show appreciation. For her, it was usually a nickel or a penny, but I remember a time when she felt God bestowed a special blessing.
My Uncle Milton was in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. He was declared “missing in action,” but the War Department unofficially said that he was probably dead. Then, in 1943, my mother received a letter from the government that said her brother was alive. They heard from the International Red Cross that he was being held as a prisoner-of-war in Japan . I was home when she opened the letter. She began crying, and couldn’t talk, but went over to the pushkas and put a half dollar in each. It took her a little while to
compose herself, and to tell me what was in the letter, but I knew that something good had happened. I had seen her put the money in the pushkas. In a sobbing voice she said, “God blessed us. Milton is alive.” She
didn’t know how to pray, or how to praise God, but she had something she could do when she was blessed, and that was to give.
The pushkas pretty much disappeared after World War II. Perhaps it’s because coins weren’t worth as much. But it is still Jewish folk doctrine to give because you’re blessed and to give because you’re thankful that God has done something for you. That folk doctrine is not far from Christian truth. I’m sure that it’s the Holy Spirit’s prompting that makes me want to give every time I realize God’s blessings.
And SURPRISE! Whatever I give Him, He always gives me back more. After my first semester in Bible College I was so gratified to pass all of my courses that I took my one valuable possession, an aging
35-millimeter camera, sold it at a pawn shop, and gave the money to foreign missions. But then, a few weeks later, a fellow student came to me and asked if I had use for a 35-millimeter camera. He called me out to his car and showed me a brand-new, still-in-the-box, very expensive, latest model, Japanese camera that he had bought while overseas in the army. I thought that he was trying to sell the camera to me, and I wouldn’t let my heart covet this instrument, which was the kind I always wanted. He just wanted to give it to me − a gift. He barely knew me, and he warned to give this precious camera to me! I told him what he could sell it for, because I knew that he probably needed the money, too. But he said that he felt led of God to give it to me.
I praised God for this blessing, and looked about for something I had to give to someone else. I lost touch with that student, and I’ve often wondered what God did for him because he blessed me with the camera.
So, as you come to celebrate the calendar holiday called Thanksgiving, if you want to give something more than a formal feast, and if you really feel that God has blessed you, why not celebrate it by giving? Though there’s not such a thing as a Christian yeshiva, there are Bible colleges and seminaries. You might practice spiritual ecology by giving your money so that the Gospel seed can be planted in hearts that are alien to God, and barren of beauty. But don’t just give because you know God is going to give to you (though He certainly will). Give because you’re grateful for past blessings.
Rejoice with us in the harvest of God.
“But this I say, He who soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” − II Corinthians 9:6, 7