Back when my husband and I were dating, we often wound up in Borough Park late at night. I would wait in the sometimes double-parked car or else browse the open shops for goodies while he ducked into Shomer Shabbos for Maariv.
During those nights, we invariably came upon people collecting tzedakah. I used to always have dollar bills ready to shell out to those who were requesting assistance, and on occasion, if I was waiting by myself and had time to spare, would strike up a conversation with them. After all, we all have our stories to tell, and many times by telling those stories, we wind up feeling better. I am of course biased- why else would I have a blog???
I was new to Brooklyn though, and after a few months was suprised to learn that not everyone who asks for tzedakah is in fact Jewish and/or truly in need. I consequently began to become more discriminating in my dispersion of tzedakah, and now channel most of it through my local Rav. At first, I found myself feeling quite guilty about denying anyone tzedakah, having heard so many stories of people who "would give the shirt off their backs" and so forth. I certainly wouldn't want to prove a candidate for the opposite, since we are required to be generous; generosity is at the root of recognizing that everything is from Hashem.
That is why men are obligated to provide not only financially but emotionally and spiritually for their wives and children, and why women attend to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of their children. However, just as we are not required to be a schmatta in marriage, we are similarly cautioned from giving tzedakah indiscriminately. In this week's parshah, Parshah Devarim, one of the actions that Bnai Yisroel is chastised for is of course the aigel zahav. In Midrash, it is explained that the reason Bnai Yisrael is taken to task is because despite having subsequently donated lavishly to the construction of the mishkan, their equally lavish donations previously to the aigel call into question the veracity of their intentions where the mishkan was concerned. To give indiscriminately then, is not viewed favourably. Rather, the prerequisite for giving is that the receiving party is both "needy and important".
By only giving after discerning that both prerequisites are met, we can avoid diminishing the value of giving. If we give endlessly to everyone who requests it, we make a mockery of what it means to give. For perhaps the most important aspect of giving is that we grant due respect to what Hashem has so kindly granted us by sharing it with others appropriately. Squandering Hashem's gifts is an aveirah, and we should in turn ensure that, when giving to others, we do not negate the value of what we have been most fortunate to have received ourselves.