It would be nice if we lived in a world where everyone was honest. Unfortunately, the news is full of stories of dishonesty, and phone scammers and identity thieves abound. The fact that people might be dishonest, however, does not absolve one of the obligation to give charity and help those in need.

There is an interesting narrative included in the Talmud (Ketubot 67b/68a) that provides insight into how to handle a situation in which one discovers, after the fact, that the charity they had given went to tricksters. Rabbi Chanina sent four zuz to a poor man every Friday. One week, when his wife went to deliver the money, she overheard the so-called “poor man” being asked by his servants if he wished to dine on the silver cloth or the gold cloth.

In response, Rabbi Chanina quoted Rabbi Chiya ben Rav of Difti, who taught “Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha said ‘Anyone who shuts his eye against [giving] charity is like one who worships idols.’”

One aspect of the mitzvah of giving charity is a recognition that everything one has comes from a Greater Source. By assisting others, one recognizes God’s generosity and emulates His ways. The Talmud does not explain what Rabbi Chanina decided to do after he learned of the man’s lack of need, but one can assume by his response to his wife that he remained calm, even if he eventually confronted the man. The onus of the deception was on the “poor man” and not on Rabbi Chanina, who did nothing wrong and had only the proper intent.

In order to protect those who want to give, many communities have created organizations that distribute funds after performing background checks or who issue certificates validating that the person seeking charity is legitimate.

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