Maimonidies writes that we are obligated to be careful with the mitzvah of tzedakah,charity, more than all other mitzvot. The Jewish people will be redeemed from exile because of tzedakah.
And a person should give with a kind expression, sympathize with the poor person and offer him comforting words. One who gives tzedakah to a pauper with an unpleasant expression, even if he gives him a thousand gold coins, has lost his merit.
One who has rachmanut/compassion on others, G-d has compassion for him. All Jews are like brothers and if one brother will not have pity on another, then who will?
And as to the ruling of the Sages that, "Your own life takes precedence," this applies only in a case when;
If a traveler in the desert has just enough water to sustain his own life, and if he shares it with his friend they will both die, then his own life takes precedence. That is, when it is equally essential that both drink in order to save their lives.
But if a poor person needs bread for his children and firewood and clothes etc then all these take precedence over any fine clothing and family feasts for oneself and his household.
We thus see, that if the respective needs are not exactly equal, then one does not say, 'one's own life takes precedence,' even in a situation where one's own needs are quite real and far from frivolous. But bread for little ones surely still takes precedence over the valid but non-essential needs of one's own family.
And in regards to this mitzva of tzedaka one should go far beyond the letter of the law. And if he gives generously and with compassion this will arouse G-d's compassion on him. And who isn't always in need of G-d's mercy?
Tzedaka atones, and protects against misfortune. It is an actual cure for body and soul. And wouldn't we give anything for a cure?
Setting a limit to the amount one gives for charity is like limiting the sum one would spend in order to be cured and to stay alive.
The Rebbe clarified that the English translation for tzedakah, charity, is inaccurate, for it implies that giving is a kindness. Truthfully, tzedakah is the rightous thing to do - Tzeddek