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Charity : Tzedakah


The uniquely Jewish perspective on charity



Tzedakah—often translated as charity—is a mainstay of Jewish life. The sages teach that the world was built upon kindness. However, tzedakah goes one step beyond. Literally translated as “justice” or “righteousness,” tzedakah tells us that sharing what we have with others isn't something special. It's the honest and just thing to do.

Tzedakah is not limited to gifts of money. Sharing time, expertise, or even a kind smile are all forms of charity that we can do.

No matter how much you were blessed with, you can always share with others. Throwing a coin into a charity box every morning (except for Shabbat and Jewish holidays) sets the tone for the rest of the day. So make sure to make it a habit.

Charity Box Power

The Pushka : By Tzvi Freeman

What makes a Jewish house Jewish? Well, there's a mezuzah on the doorpost. Books of Jewish wisdom on the shelves. Guests are welcome, and when a needy soul knocks on the door, he doesn't go away empty handed.

And then there's a little box or tin can sitting on a counter somewhere. Every day, a little spare change gets dropped in there, plus a few more coins just before Shabbat. When it's full, it goes to a good cause, whichever the family chooses.

It could be there's a top-of-the-line entertainment system in this house. Maybe a leading edge computer. Along with many expensive appliances and gadgets. But none have as great an impact on people's lives, fill the house with as much meaning and add as much beauty as the pushka (Yiddish for "little box").

There are, of course, other ways to give charity. What's so special about the pushkah?

More Action

"How often," said the 12th century sage Maimonides, "is more important than how much."

Why? Because when you write a check for $365, a good cause gets another $365. But give a dollar every day for 365 days -- and your hand becomes a giving hand. As an anonymous Jewish sage wrote, "A person is more influenced by the things he does than by the knowledge he is taught."

So if you want to pick yourself up, get into some elevated habits. Like dropping coins in a box.

Holy Space

And it's not just you -- your pushka will pick up your living space as well. "A charity box in a home or office," the Lubavitcher Rebbetaught, "redefines the entire space. It is no longer just a home, just an office. It is a center of kindness and caring."

That is why the Rebbe suggested making a pushka box a permanent fixture of your home or office. Affix it to a wall. Or more correctly: Affix your house to it.

Elevated Moments

Then there's your time. Time needs to be elevated, too. One action elevates the time in which it was done. Many actions -- even if they're small actions -- elevate so many more moments. That's why the Baal Shem Tov taught, "Don't let a day go by without its own act of giving."

The Kabbalists call this, "elevating time, space and person." Or you could just call it, "making a better world."

Don't Give Charity

Charity, everyone knows, means being a nice guy and giving your money to someone with less. That's why, in Jewish tradition, we never give charity. It's unheard of.

Because everyone knows that whatever we have doesn't really belong to us to begin with. We are no more than treasurers, our sages taught, and everything that comes through our hands is given us in order to use it for good things. Like educating our kids. Like nourishing our body with kosher and healthy food. And like giving it to people who are short on what they need.

That's why, in Jewish tradition, we call it "giving tzedakah." Tzedakah means "doing the right thing." Putting your stuff where it really belongs. That's where your money will reap you the most benefit and bring you the most good -- because that's where it's meant to be.

It's an Old Obsession

Since we left the oppression of ancient Egypt, the Jewish people have been obsessed with the act of charity. When, in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Julian ordered the setting up of hostels for transients in every city, he referred to the example of the Jews "in whose midst no stranger goes uncared for." Historical records from every era, wherever there were Jews, provide long lists of societies -- free loan funds, soup kitchens, wedding funds, widow funds, orphan care, new mother care, free education and much more. There wasn't a Jew who wasn't either giving or getting -- and often both.

Today, when Jewish values have been universally adopted, Jews continue to give more to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes than the rest of the population. Giving tzedakah is one of the things we are most proud of.

Do It Yourself

If you don't have a pushka yet, you can make your own. All you need is a box or can of any material -- tin, wood, cardboard, whatever -- with a slot in the top for the insertion of coins. We suggest you print the following instructions and use them as a label:

How to use this Device for Full Empowerment:

● Place strategically for maximum exposure in office and/or home.

● Get habitual. Get obsessed. Each day, deposit a few coins in device. Make this awesome act the core event of your day. Every day. (Except Shabbat and Yom Tov, when handling money is forbidden).

● Once device is full, choose a worthy cause. Call them for further instructions.

Note: Best when supplemented with random acts of kindness beyond reason.

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