I learned a new word when I was watching a movie a few days ago. Apparently the word "tzedakah" means charity in Judaism. I don't remember ever hearing it before, but when I googled it to learn more, I found out that it is considered a religious obligation, rather than being a form of voluntary giving. Even poor people are expected to perform tzedakah.
I've been pondering the idea of the kind of assistance that the government gives to people in need. It's an obligation that some people resent and others don't understand the necessity for. I have been feeling rather frustrated about this until I happened on the concept of the "deserving poor" in my reading. Then I remembered learning about the eight levels of giving when I studied social work.
The fear of giving to someone who is "undeserving" is understandable. After all, tzedakah demands that one check the credentials and finances of the person or organization before giving to make sure the gift will be used "wisely, efficiently and effectively." Tzedakah money doesn't belong to the person or organization giving it--it belongs to God, and we must use it properly.
A concept that was based on good intentions has been twisted into something that lets "the system" punish people for being poor. If they mess up, "the system" will stop providing the obligatory help it offers.
Maybe the government has to work that way, but believers have the opportunity to keep people from falling through the cracks. We can practice charity. Charity is a spontaneous, generous gift that can change the world for the better.