Generation to Generation: Teaching Our Children the Joy of Giving to Others

Yael and her sons giving a gift to a Holocaust survivor during Hanukkah

We live in the so-called “selfie generation,” where our focus is often on ourselves — how we look, how many “likes” we get on social media, what we have, and what we do. The irony is that focusing on ourselves does not make us happier; rather it robs us of our joy. As the Bible teaches, what truly brings joy is giving to others. In the Jewish faith, charity is not seen as simply a good deed, but rather as a sacred obligation. It is practiced throughout the year as part of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays observances. Most Jewish homes, synagogues, schools, and even businesses have at least one special receptacle for giving charity. The ultimate goal, says Yael, is for her children to learn to give consistently and generously. Listen today to learn how these principles can help your children experience the joy of giving.

Episode Notes

Giving charity is a defining characteristic of Jewish life. In Hebrew, the word for charity, tzedakah, has a very different meaning than the ideas typically associated with the word charity, described in the dictionary as “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.”

Most people of faith associate charity with words like mercy, kindness, and compassion. However, the Hebrew word tzedakah comes from two root words: tzedek, which means “justice,” and kah, a reference to God’s name. Taken together, tzedakah means “the justice of God,” and is most accurately translated as “righteous giving.”

In that sense, giving charity is primarily an act of righteousness, a sacred obligation, and a necessary act in serving God. God says, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8). All our possessions, including our wealth and our talents, are gifts from God. And God has given us all that we have so that we might use our resources appropriately. In essence, when we give to the needy, we return to God what is truly His in the first place.

Tzedakah is practiced in the Jewish faith all year long, and ideally, every day. Jewish homes, schools, and synagogues have at least one special receptacle called a tzedakah box where people can give charity. Many women and girls give tzedakah just before lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday before sunset.

Charity is a notable feature of Jewish holidays as well, such as during the High Holy Days when giving to the needy is said to sweeten God’s judgment, or on Passover when the seder meal begins with an invitation to all who are hungry. On Purim, the Bible says to give “gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22) as part of that celebration. In addition, people often give tzedakah as a way to commemorate a loved one who has passed, or to honor the living.

“Just as we need to exercise a muscle regularly in order to make it stronger, we need to give consistently in order to fully develop the trait of generosity,” said Yael. “By placing tzedakah boxes in our homes and places of gathering, we give ourselves the opportunity to give charity every day. The box serves as a daily reminder that there are people in need of our assistance and provides a way for us to do our part to help every day.”

To that end, Yael and her husband bring their children with them once or twice a month to help distribute aid to needy Jews. Said Yael, “We involve our children as much as we can in charitable giving and efforts so that they can experience firsthand the joy and fulfillment that giving brings to both the giver and the receiver.”

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