Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Over the years, people would describe someone as being sooo generous and kind, that “he’d give the shirt off his back.” I, like most people, would think, “Wow, how noble, what a tzaddik.” Helping someone on that level – by giving away something – money, clothes, food, that he/she likely needed for themselves.

But looking inward, and observing others, I’ve had a complete change of mind. That person might not be so praiseworthy after all.


I actually roll my eyes when I read stories of the shtetl in which a poor Jew takes his last kopek to buy some food for his starving children, only to give it away to someone whose path he crossed who was asking for money so he could pay for his daughter’s dowry.

If the Yid wants to subject himself to extreme hunger, that’s his sad choice, but he has NO right to inflict severe malnutrition on his children, and potentially have them die.

In Masechet Baba Metzia (62a-68b), Rabbi Akiva ruled in disagreement with Ben Peturah that if two men are in a desert and are severely dehydrated, and there is only enough water to sustain one before reaching a well, the owner should not share his water, but use it for himself in order to survive.

In Devarim (15:11) it is written, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ From this pasuk, it was taught that you and yours come first, then you can help others. Hence the phrase, “charity begins at home.”

When you figuratively “give your shirt off your back” this act of self-sacrifice might not be an act of altruistic generosity, but rather fueled by pathological low self-esteem and the warped belief you are not worthy of “having it better” than the other fellow.

Hence you make social, financial or work-related choices that are not necessarily in your best interest, i.e., “I’m going to turn down that promotion or feel guilty for accepting it because “my colleague is much more deserving. Or “I’ll help my sibling pay to remodel her out of-date kitchen, instead of getting the expensive dental work that I need to fix my broken teeth.” Her need is greater than mine.

Why consider yourself as being less? Aren’t you also made b’tzelem Elokim – in Hashem’s image – and aren’t you worthy of help – from yourself?

You are not being selfish when you address your needs first. You are being self-ish. Recognize that you have value and that you matter. While you commendably have empathy and are compassionate, you must internalize the reality that you might need “your shirt” too and it should stay on your back.

Do not minimize yourself. Do not feel you are not entitled to your blessings.

Extreme self -debasement is not a middah. When you devalue yourself, you essentially are making a statement that perhaps Hashem made a mistake – and created a sub-par individual.

All babies are born with an oversized ego. Their needs come first and they are incapable of being considerate. Their needs are a priority. Gradually as children grow older, they become aware that others humans, like their parents have needs – like sleeping, and gradually accommodate those needs.

Yet some babies go from super ego to no ego. Extreme generosity in terms of your money and time, to one’s personal detriment, often is a sad outcome of the entrenched belief, fed from childhood, that you have no value.

If the chronic messages they receive growing up, is “You are sloppy, you are ugly, you can’t do anything right, you are careless,” then that is how they will see themselves. Why would they question their all-knowing parents?

Extreme generosity in terms of limited money, resources and time, to one’s detriment, often is a sad outcome of the belief, fed from childhood, that you have no value.

After her mother died, a friend let her siblings take valuable antiques and paintings that were part of her inheritance because she felt she would somehow ruin or break these items. A lifetime of being told she was clumsy, scatterbrained and messy had convinced her she wasn’t deserving of anything of value – because she wouldn’t know how to properly take care of precious items.

Sadly, if you don’t respect yourself, why should anyone else? People who question their worthiness are easily manipulated. There are many intelligent men and women who lost their nest eggs, their peace of mind, and even their ability to make independent choices because they were full of self-doubt as to their competence; they questioned their ability to make sound decisions so they allowed others to do their thinking for them, in many cases psychopathic predators.

Extreme self-denigration means you are listening to a personal Amalek living in your head. It wants you to doubt yourself, and make you vulnerable, so it can prey on you to an even greater degree and cause you great loss and chaos. Get therapy if necessary, or at the very least, surround yourself with people who are positive and admire you and will build you up.

It is a big mitzvah to give your shirt off your back” as long as you have a few hanging in your closet, and you can spare the one you have.


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