A common trick our mind plays on us involves the use of negative thoughts. Hopelessness, loneliness, low self esteem, helplessness… we know this game, for most of us have experienced low points in our lives. I usually refer to these times as psychological or moral deserts. The Bible often references the concept of desert (or in Hebrew paralance: an empty wilderness). For example, it speaks about the time spent in the wilderness by the Jewish people and Moses. The Christian testament refers to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, a period when he faced temptation. Both instances reflect difficult times.
When in a personal wilderness many of us reach out to others for help, We seek guidance and wisdom from others or from a Spiritual being. We search for meaning hoping to make sense of what is happening. Some of us rely on our faith and Biblical teachings. Many Catholics, like myself, will draw strength from the words of Jesus Christ, and if we persevere we find answers and will feel better. But sometimes I feel Catholics may miss some of the Bible’s insights and teachings, especially those found in the Hebrew Scripture we know as the Old Testament.. Let me explain what I mean.
Because of my involvement with the Center for Latino – Jewish Relations I have been exposed both to Jewish teachers and thinkers. It all began as a result of my admiration of the Jewish community’s respect for traditions. Most of the world knows that Jews have a tendency to help each other. For some this is a positive and for others, they see this sense of community as almost tribalistic in nature. Yet, it is only when we reach a low point in our life – a desert – when feelings of loneliness and hopelessness creep up, that we come to truly understand the relevance of this behaviour.
During a visit to Cordoba in Spain’s Andalucia region, I heard for the first time the name of Moses ben Maimon commonly referred to as Maimonides (1134-1204). He was born in Spain and is one of the most widely studied Jewish scholars. I encourage everyone to read about him, for he has a fascinating life and knowledge.
“Maimonides’s major contribution to Jewish life is a book called the Mishneh Torah, his code of Jewish law. His intention was to compose a book that would guide Jews on how to behave in all situations just by reading the Torah and his code, without having to expend large amounts of time searching through the Talmud.” JewishVirtualLibrary.org
During one of my family’s “deserts” I found myself thinking about the Jewish community. I wondered how members of that community would approach the loss of a job or face depression. As in the case of my personal deserts, I pray faithfully, thank God for his blessings, ask for guidance, light candles, ask friends and family for prayers, talk to my spiritual leader and friends for support. As Catholics we know that we pray for each other and help one another when in need. The interpretation of “help” varies depending on who you ask. For the most part we pray for a miracle, for healing, for guidance and enlightenment, for God to intervene with His mercy. From personal experience I can say He does answer our prayers weather we like His answer or not.
But is that enough? How do we help each other in the physical world? We give to charitable organizations and we give to our church, but how much do we help individual fellow Catholics? How do we in the Latino community help each other? There can be many answers to this question, but I have not read any specific guidelines related to helping each other during financial stress.
Maimonides does provide a list of eight levels of charity that I find enlightening. They are written in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7–14 where it says:
 The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .
I do not believe it can get more specific than this. When I read it for the first time, I realized this could be the reason why the Jewish community help each other. This idea is a direct, no frills message for everybody to understand. This principle does not mean everybody lives by this, but Jewish history demonstrates that over time large numbers of Jews have adapted these principles into their daily lives.
As a Catholic Latina, there is something important to learn from this concept. We may not all be in a position to lend money or help our fellow human being to find a job, but must we try? Or should I say, do we care? To me the main message of this level of charity is to care enough to engage in the other’s situation. To desire honestly the financial advancement of one another. The desire to be a financially healthy community can only come from a selfless, loving heart.
How do we help our fellow Latinos? Our fellow Catholics in distress? The eighth and last level of charity says:
8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.
During my personal desert I discovered there is good in all of us whether inspired by law or spirit. Friends from different religious backgrounds reached out to me and my family offering support.
I encourage everyone to read and meditate on these eight levels of charity and let our spirit be there to comfort the friend and stranger.
The featured photograph was taken at a private home in Jerusalem during Sabbath dinner with friends by my husband Lupe. December 2, 2016.