Tzedakah, Not Charity


In these dark days of winter we all see people around us who have suffered great reversal of fortunes. As many of us struggle to support our own families, it is easy to harden our hearts or avert our gaze.

Jews, contrary to (favorable) popular myth, do not give “charity”. Rather, Jews give “Tzedakah”. The word tzedakah shares its root with tzaddik. It means righteousness. In recognition that everything comes from G-d… EVERYTHING… by aiding our fellow man, we please G-d and elevate our souls.

The RaMBaM (Maimonides) distilled the Talmudic Sages’ principles of how to give tzedakah to a list from least to best:
1. Giving begrudgingly
2. Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully.
3. Giving after being asked
4. Giving before being asked
5. Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
6. Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient does not know your identity
7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

But, simply giving is not enough. As with all mitzvot; G-d wants us to be happy, so, as in this video showing the Lulav and Etrog during the Festival of Succot, this mitzvah must be done with joy.

“To what extent must a person endeavor to cling always to the trait of kindness, as Scripture states: ‘He told you, Oh man, how good, and what the L-rd requires of you, only doing justice and loving kindness… (Michah 6:8).’ …The prophet’s message is that, albeit, we all perform acts of kindness, usually these acts come out of a sense of duty… Therefore, do not make the mistake of thinking that by the fact that you do perform acts of kindness you are fulfilling your obligation fully. Rather a person must have a love for this trait of kindness.”

The Chofetz Chaim writing in Ahavas Chesed Part II, Chapter One
In closing, I offer this moving video, with wishes that each and every one of us have a happy, healthy and more prosperous (secular) New Year, that we may be able to perform more and greater mitzvot, and we thus merit the coming of Moshiach, soon and in our time.


3 thoughts on “Tzedakah, Not Charity”

  1. Excellent thoughts to start the New Year. I admit, I struggle at times with the trait of kindness. But I have another day, and so another chance. I will keep the attitude in mind for mitzvahs. There is a lot to be learned from what you’ve written. I’ll never get it all right, but I can try to move closer to what I should be in the coming year. Thanks so much!

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