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Eighth grader Gujjar wants to know, what is an "amount set aside for the poor and needy?"

Hi Gujjar, I'm guessing that you're looking for a specific word with that meaning? Probably the word you're looking for is "alms."

The word alms is defined by one dictionary as "charitable donations of money or goods to the poor or needy."

Notice that "alms" is a plural noun; it is defined as "donations" rather than "donation." However, I have never ever heard the word used singularly as "alm" - you wouldn't say "I gave an alm" for "I gave a gift to the poor." Even if it was just one gift, you would still say, "I gave alms."

Alms-giving is treated differently in different parts of the world. Here in the United States, if you're driving down a city street, it's not unusual to find a person standing at the corner with a sign asking for money. The tendency here is to not engage; we are often suspicious that the recipient might use the money for bad purposes (i.e. drugs). In one place I visited in north Africa, I remember being surprised at the number of people who were on street corners asking for money, but I was even more surprised at the number of people who engaged with them. It was explained to me that it is simply part of the culture, and people carry coins in their pockets specifically for the purpose of giving. In some religions, alms-giving is commanded, and in most religions it is strongly encouraged.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously said, "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

Jesus makes the assumption that people will give to the poor and needy*, and then points out that even something as good as giving to the poor can be undertaken badly; it is not done in order to receive glory from people. If you give in the hope that people will pat you on the back for your giving, you're doing it for the wrong reason. 

Instead, Jesus says, your giving should be so secret that even your left hand doesn't even realize that your right hand is being generous. That's a clever way of saying, "Keep it VERY secret" To this day, people still use the phrase "left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" - although most people use it to describe a situation where people are working at cross-purposes because they don't know what the other person is doing. But originally, it was meant as a positive thing, not negative.

Incidentally, in case "alms" wasn't the word you were looking for, here are's synonyms:

aid, assistance, benefaction, charity, contribution, dole, donation, offering

[Note: the image shown above is a portion of a painting of Bishop Nicholas of Myra giving alms, painted by Jan Heinsch in the 1600s]

* It's no wonder that Jesus makes this assumption; the Old Testament has several commands and recommendations to this effect, such as in Deuteronomy 15:7 "If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be." and Proverbs 19:17 "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed."

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