"Charity is equal in importance to all the other commandments in the Torah combined," reads an early rabbinic law code. The formulation comes from the Roman period, but the origin of this characteristically Jewish idea is much older. Its beginnings lie, in fact, in two places: in the general ancient Near Eastern notion that the king is the protector of the weak and the defenseless, and, more particularly, in the biblical story of God's redemption of the people Israel from Egypt and his gift to them of the Promised Land. In Exodus, these two related streams come together pointedly when Israel's divine king gives them this revealingly phrased law: "You shall not oppress a resident alien, for you know what it feels like to be a resident alien, since resident aliens is what you were in the land of Egypt." Through a host of institutions—most notably the tithe—Jewish law makes the giving of charity a mitzvah (a commandment), not an option. The framework is once again theological; charity is based in something higher and more enduring than feelings of compassion or guilt. A verse in Proverbs pregnant with repercussions in both Judaism and Christianity renders the vertical dimension explicit: 'He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD; / He will repay him his due.' Lest potential givers think that by performing the mitzvah they will harm their own financial status, the proverb assures them that in the divine plan their gift is accounted as a loan—one that the ultimate protector of the poor can be trusted to repay in full. In this theology, charitable giving is not a zero-sum game. It results in wealth for both the donor and the recipient. A celebrated passage—traditionally, the Jewish husband chants it in praise of his wife before the Sabbath evening meal—includes women in its ethic of giving: "She gives generously to the poor; / Her hands are stretched out to the needy." For a woman as for a man, generosity toward the poor is a sign of the God-fearing person. Maimonides, the great codifier, philosopher, and communal leader of twelfth-century Egyptian Jewry, speaks of eight levels of charitable giving. Which is the highest? It is, Maimonides writes, "that of the person who assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment—in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people's aid." The ideal mode of giving inhibits both paternalism in the giver and dependence and resentment in the receiver. Sometimes the best love is tough love.