The founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had many disciples. I like this story about two of his well-known students:
Reb Zalman of Dubrovna and Reb Pinchas of Shklov were each great scholars in their own right; they were also very affluent men. Reb Zalman even included a note in his will that on the Day of Judgment, he sees only two merits that will stand in his favor: his fulfillment of the mitzvah of Tzedakah (charity), and the power of his Rebbe.
Reb Zalman used to keep his copper, silver and gold coins in separate boxes. When he was approached with a request for tzedakah, he would assess the situation in his mind to determine how much the poor person needed. Then, he would reach his hand into the appropriate box, and whatever came up in his hand, he would give.
Now, Reb Pinchas was also wealthy. In fact, he so admired Reb Zalman’s way of giving, that he traveled to Dubrovna solely to learn from Reb Zalman about how to give tzedakah properly.
Shortly after having learned to give tzedakah with the correct approach from Reb Zalman, he visited their Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and remarked, “I have learned a new way to give charity from Reb Zalman.”
After describing Reb Zalman’s admirable way of giving, he commented, “Yet Reb Zalman and I are not the same. After reaching into his box of coins to give, he does not open his hand to see how much is in it. Yet I – despite the fact that I also give whatever amount of coins comes up in my hand – I open it first to catch a glimpse of how much it is.”
How do you give?