Charitable intentions, however, don’t guarantee you’ll get the charity donation tax deduction. The Rambam (1135-1104), Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as Maimonides – authority on Jewish law, states the following in his “Laws of Gifts to the Poor” Chapter 10, Law 1:
“We are obligated to be careful with the commandment of charity more so than with all the positive commandments. For charity is a sign of the righteous person – of the children of Abraham our father. As it says, ‘For I have (known) loved him because he commands his children… to do righteousness (Tzedakkah, charity.)’ And the throne of Israel will not be established, and the religion of truth will not stand except through Tzeddakah. As it says, ‘Establish yourself through Tzeddakah.’ And the Jewish people will not be redeemed except through Tzeddakah – as it says, ‘Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who return to her through Tzedakkah.'”
What is Charity – Tzeddakah?
Many think of themselves as helping others when they give of their hard earned money to those less fortunate than they are – or perhaps to those who may not work as hard as they do. Is charity truly only one-sided?! Is it possible that more than one benefits when charity is given?! Can giving actually be done with a smile? Is the receiver any less important because he receives?!
The (general) world perceives charity as something to be pitied. Those who walk around without are to be pitied, and those who have often drop a few coins into a charity box in the hope of walking off with a sticker to place on their shirts – showing all and sundry that they have recently donated something to this worthy cause.
Others look for higher goals – where stickers are not enough, and obtaining plaques on synagogues – with their names engraved upon them are the fashion. And then there are yet others who feel that having their names splashed across entire buildings is the hallmark of what charity is really all about. Is it all about caring for the other, or is there an ulterior motive involved? Do we so easily want to give when we don’t really know what’s in it for ourselves?! Do we feel as comfortable giving to a beggar dressed in rags as we do to a large organisation with a million dollar building?! Are we even prepared to give those who may “bother” us every so often – and more? Aren’t we in charge of our money and haven’t we earned and deserved every cent we have?! Perhaps if only those “beggars” would get a job, the world would be a far better place!
While giving and expecting some sort of reward, acclaim and appreciation is not in any way wrong – and in fact in many cases is praised – as it encourages others to give, we need to understand the Hebrew language clearly before deciding just what real charity is all about.
The Hebrew word for kindness – the apparent act that we are doing when we give charity, is in fact Chesed. Tzeddakah, however, comes from the word Tzeddek – something that is right! Charity may be a concept that we have been brought up with. But REAL Tzeddakah is doing the right thing! We give because this is what is demanded from us – by the Giver of all! There does not have to necessarily be any reward attached.
G-d has created His world in a unique manner. While He certainly could have provided for everybody with his every need – as we will experience in the times of the revelation of Moshiach and onwards – He chose to create his world with a give-and-take system – so that it would be able to exist through MERCY. In fact, not just through mercy – but to simply exist altogether!
There are some who have – because it is G-d’s wish that they give – to emulate G-d Himself. And there are those who lack – because it is also G-d’s wish that the world operate in accordance with mercy. G-d could easily turn the tables. There is no logical reason why one person should have and another lack – no matter how hard they work or how smart they are. These factors too – are blessings from G-d!
The Tzemach Tzeddek – the third Rebbe of Chabad points this out in a discourse. He speaks of the truth of G-d’s creation. G-d wanted a world where giving would occur. But in order for giving to happen, there needs to be a recipient. Without a recipient, nobody would be able to give!
Imagine a world filled with people who all had sufficient for their every need and desire… There would end up being absolutely no communication between anybody at all – what with everybody having their needs fulfilled already! Instead G-d set up a system for interaction, where all would have to turn to somebody some time in their lives. There must be givers and there must be receivers. In fact, without someone to receive, one can never become a giver! And isn’t this what we all wish to be?!
When the Rebbe spoke of these matters he also began to cry… Yes, it’s fine that there must be givers and receivers, but the poor man asks – why can I not be the one who HAS?!
Being a child of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob means that one is blessed with 3 inborn qualities. If one examines oneself and finds one of these qualities lacking, one should surely reflect on the quality of one’s soul. The children of Abraham are merciful, shy and doers of kindness!
These qualities express clearly what a Jewish soul is truly all about. It is a soul that wishes to do kindness – naturally! There is no need for force or compulsion. There is no need to feel one is pitifully helping another less fortunate. Rather, the Jew is totally consumed and concerned with doing acts of kindness, having mercy on another, and feeling a little embarrassed – perhaps that he has been blessed with more than another.
G-d has loved Avraham. He loves him – because he (Avraham) commands his children to do acts of kindness and give charity. In fact, as the Rambam points out through quoting from the prophet Isaiah – it is only through our acts of charity – righteousness – of doing what is the RIGHT thing to do that ultimately the final redemption will occur.
May we examine the commandment of charity from another angle and see that more than the giver gives to the receiver, that in fact it is the receiver who gives to the giver. For the receiver provides the giver with a reason or opportunity to give, and this is often more difficult to do than the obvious, external giving. This change of focus should give us the strength to feel an automatic sense of shyness (at G-d’s gift towards ourselves), mercy towards others who may not have what we do, and set us up to act kindly to all, and may this indeed hasten the redemption and that we be taken out of exile IMMEDIATELY!
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The author – Rabbi Eliyahu Shear – is happy to be in touch with all those sincerely interested in learning more about Judaism and Torah and can be contacted through his main page or his blog: http://dwellingplacebelow.blogspot.com
He is involved in Torah learning as well as Torah teaching both in person, and through using Internet technologies to those situated away from him. He loves both the revealed and the hidden (Kabbalah and Chassidut) aspects of Torah. He loves writing for a variety of publications and magazines and is always open to further such opportunities. He is also a professional photographer, photographing weddings and events as well as having an online photo store.
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