Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently announced the launch of the “Giving Pledge” campaign, asking that all billionaires in America donate at least 50% of their wealth to charity—and to publicly outline their intentions with a written letter—during their lifetimes or upon their deaths. On June 16th, four families took up the challenge, publicly announcing their intent to do exactly that. Eli Broad, pledging to give away 75 percent of his wealth, noted that "We agree with Andrew Carnegie's wisdom that 'the man who dies rich, dies disgraced’”. Gates himself noted that he “couldn't be happier" with his 2006 decision to give away 99 percent of his wealth.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has revolutionized the world, changing how the daily activities of millions are performed. Yet the tremendous technological impact is likely the smallest measure of his success. Mr. Gates and Warren Buffet have created jobs for thousands and wealth for millions, fulfilling the highest form of tzedakah: creating opportunities for others to be self-sufficient.
Their attempt to revolutionize the field of philanthropy is one that would, in my mind, make Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett worthy of the Talmudic comment regarding the successful effort of Yehoshua ben Gamla, the first-century High Priest who instituted a publicly funded system for Torah education. “Remember this man for good, for if not for him, Torah would be forgotten from the people of Israel”. Ben Gamla was to be remembered for posterity, despite the fact that within a few short years, the destruction of Jerusalem ended his efforts. It is our efforts that count—ultimately, G-d determines the results.
I look forward to the day when Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway will be long forgotten, but people will still say, “Remember Warren and Bill for good, for because of them trillions of dollars were raised the help the needy”.
It is our community that should be the most receptive to the “giving pledge” initiative. Tzedakah, Maimonides notes, is the most important positive mitzvah a Jew can perform. The institutions we have created—generally without government assistance—both today and throughout our history are testament to how seriously we took the requirement to give between 10-20% of one’s income to charity. Despite the poverty that was often our lot, we maintained a flourishing Jewish life.
The wealth of our community is unprecedented; a quick perusal of the 100 wealthiest Canadians contains the names of many well-known Jewish philanthropists, whose cumulative net worth is listed at over $20 billion dollars. Yet never before have Jewish communities been as incapable as they are today of meeting communal needs. The declining enrollments in almost every day school in the city attest to this sad reality, a reality that we are capable of changing almost overnight.
We are now in the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest and most tragic day of the Jewish calendar. The Talmud famously declares that the exile was caused by “free (senseless) hatred”. As we all know, the leading cause of fighting amongst people—and within families—are money related. The Jerusalem Talmud thus notes that the cause of the destruction was due to excessive “love of money”. True love is demonstrated by what we share with others.