“Righteous acts of generosity [are] equal in importance to all other holy obligations combined.” (Baba Bathra 9a)
Expressions of Generosity in Jewish life
A Generous Heart
“If… there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
Tzedakah is so much more than “charity”. It comes from the same word as “righteous” in Hebrew, so every act of tzedakah is infused with righteousness…it is the right thing to do. Being generous is a holy obligation, not a voluntary act. There are people in need all around us, and Judaism knows that a community that is built on the awareness to help others in need is one that will make the community a better place to live. Tzedakah is not only a way of exercising good will; it maintains justice in the world.
Promoting peace through righteous acts of generosity
“All the righteous acts of generosity and deeds of kindness that the children of Israel perform in this world promote peace and good understanding between them and The Holy One.” (Baba Batra 10a)
Hillel used to say, “The more righteous acts of generosity/tzedakah, the more peace/shalom.” (Pirke Avot 2:8)
Connecting harvesting the land and
our sacred obligation to those in need
“When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the orphan, and for the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands... And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 4:19-22)
“At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates...and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” (Deuteronomy 19:28-29)
A Tzedakah Tale
Think about it:
The Hebrew language is built on three-letter roots, and words that share the same root are related on a deep level. The word tzedakah shares its root with tzedek (justice) and tzadik (righteous person).
How are these words connected?
Think about the relationship between a righteous society and a righteous person.
Can you have a righteous society without righteous, generous individuals? What about being generous in an un-generous society? What other combinations of concepts can you come up with to discuss?
Tzedakah in the military – Think about it:
What expressions of generosity and providing for those in need have you witnessed?
Links about Tzedakah
http://www.on1foot.org/ – Jewish Texts on Social Justice
http://ajws.org/what_we_do/education/ – American Jewish World Service
http://www.areyvut.org/resources/sources/tzedakah/ – Areyvut