The Right Thing to Do
Yael Eckstein | April 24, 2023
For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just [tzedakah u’mishpat], so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. — Genesis 18:19
Compassion is one of Judaism’s highest values and this caring concern and empathy for our fellow human beings is considered one of the three distinguishing marks of being Jewish. Enjoy these 11 devotions on this very important concept for Christians and Jews.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Charity begins at home,” meaning we should first take care of our family and those closest to us before we worry about others. Well, in the Jewish tradition, charity actually begins in the kitchen — but has more far-reaching implications than just taking care of those at home.
Virtually all Jewish homes have at least one special receptacle called a tzedakah “charity” box where family members can give charity on a regular basis. For example, many women and girls give tzedakah just before lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday before sunset.
Charity also 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 judgment, 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) as part of the observance. In addition, people often give tzedakah as a way to commemorate a loved one who has passed away or to honor the living.
The Right Thing to Do
The Hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, means something much more than “charity.” In the traditional sense, charity has the connotation of generosity, an act that stems from the giver going beyond what is required. But tzedakah in the Jewish tradition comes from the word tzedek, which is usually translated as “justice,” as in the verse, tzedek tirdof, “Follow justice and justice alone” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
In other words, tzedakah is more than an expression of benevolence and generosity. It is simply the right thing to do.
What’s more, as we see in Genesis, tzedakah is the basis of God’s covenant with Abraham: “For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just [tzedakah u’mishpat], so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
God called Abraham to “walk before me faithfully” (Genesis 17:1). Walking “before” God means that we are His agents, that we proactively carry out His will.
Don’t wait for the needy to come to you. Seek out opportunities for tzedakah in your community, or through the work of The Fellowship.