"In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come." —Exodus 27:21
In Judaism, the word for charity is tzedakah, which literally means, “righteous giving.” This concept goes far beyond the traditional understanding of charity. It is not just an act of kindness and benevolence — it is an act of justice and righteousness. This is one of 12 devotions focusing on tzedakah and how we can incorporate its lessons into our lives. To learn more, download our complimentary Bible study on tzedakah here.
During the 40 years that the children of Israel were in the desert, God created a miraculous light – the pillar of fire – that led them by day and provided light at night. So when God commanded the Israelites to light the lampstand in Exodus 27:20, and to make sure that it burned both day and night, we have to wonder: Does God really need our light? After all, God created the sun, the moon, and the multitude of stars. What can our seven tiny flames possibly contribute?
The Jewish sages answer with the following analogy. A blind person and a person with sight were walking together, and the sighted person led the blind person until night arrived and it became dark. The sighted person handed the blind person a candle and said: “I want you to light this for me so that you won’t feel a debt of gratitude for what I have done for you. Now you will have done something for me, too.”
When God commands us to light the lampstand, it’s not for His benefit. It’s for ours – so that we can feel a sense of worth and contribution.
Based on this explanation, we can learn a lesson about true kindness. Real kindness is when we do something without expecting anything in return, even gratitude. In Judaism, one of the highest forms of charity is to give anonymously. Recently, I read the following story that demonstrated this kind of unconditional kindness.
A young newly married couple was riding the New York subway late at night. They were happily married but struggled financially, and on that ride home, they spoke about how they wished that they had enough money to go on a honeymoon, even just overnight. Unfortunately, even one night in a hotel was too much at the time for their meager budget.
Suddenly, a man got on the otherwise empty car. He started asking the couple questions, and while they politely answered, they kept their distance. A few minutes later the subway arrived at the next stop and the man turned to leave. Just after he stepped off the train, but before the doors closed, the man yelled, “Catch,” and tossed an envelope to the couple. They looked inside and found a gift of $1,000!
This week, look for ways you can give something without receiving anything in return. Try giving an anonymous gift or helping a complete stranger who you will never see again. You will find that you not only brighten someone else’s day, but you also add a tremendous amount of light to your own life.