An Essential Part of Life

Yael Eckstein  |  August 21, 2020

little boy with tzedakah box

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will reward them for what they have done
. — Proverbs 19:17

This month, I’m sharing with you weekly devotions from my book, Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children. These devotions are tied to the Jewish principle of tzedakah, charity, and how we teach our children to be generous and giving.

Tzedakah — the act of righteous giving — 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 our holidays as well, such as during the High Holy Days when giving to the needy is said to sweeten God’s judgement, or on Passover when the seder meal begins with an invitation to all who are hungry. On Purim, we are explicitly directed to give “gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22). In addition, people often give tzedakah as a way to commemorate a loved one who has passed, or to honor the living.

As mentioned previously, Jews are obligated to give away ten percent of their earnings, a practice known as tithing (Leviticus 27:30), which is observed by many Christians as well. Giving tzedakah is regarded so highly that it is considered one of the few acts that is “equal to fulfilling the entire Torah.”

In other words, giving charity is an essential part of the purpose of life. As the apostle Paul, raised and educated as a Jew, wrote to the church at Corinth, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV).

The Jewish concept of tzedakah beckons us to understand that charity is an act that profoundly affects both the giver and the receiver. The receiver experiences the blessing of the gift and the subsequent change to his or her physical status, while the giver receives spiritual blessings.

It says in the Talmud, the written compilation of the Jewish Oral Tradition, “More than the wealthy person does for the poor, the poor does for the wealthy person.” As Solomon wrote, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9; see also 14:21 and 19:17). And Jesus taught in the Christian Bible, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42).

Clearly, there is a reward for those who bless the less fortunate.

Your turn:

Download a complimentary sample of my new book, Generation to Generation, at generationbook.org to learn more about passing on our faith to the next generation.

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