It’s Friday, and at my son’s Jewish preschool, they spend time lighting candles, reciting the blessing over the wine and eating challah (bread) in preparation for Shabbat. They also collect Tzedakah.
I asked Aaron if he would like money to give to Tzedakah. He said “no”, as he has been doing for several weeks now. I finally decided to probe him on this issue.
“Do you know what Tzedakah is?” I asked.
“It’s to help people who don’t have things. I don’t have a race track anymore so I want a new one.”
A racetrack is a luxury, I tried to explain, not something that is needed. The children who are receiving our Tzedakah don’t have anything. They don’t have money to buy food and because they can’t buy food, they are hungry and cannot concentrate and learn during school. They don’t have money to go to the doctor when they are sick, and they get sick a lot because they don’t have the right clothes or enough food. If they get any toys at all, they are very lucky.
“If I give them my money,” Aaron said, “then I won’t have any.”
Aaah, so that was it. I sometimes feel like that too.
We tend to think of Tzedakah as charity, but – perhaps – if we thought of it as it was truly meant to be, it would be easier to part with our hard-earned money. We are commanded to care for each other and to take part in tikkun olam, the repair of the world.
The word Tzedakah comes from the Hebrew root Tzadik, which means righteous or justice. The act of giving Tzedakah is really an obligation. A Jew is expected to give 10% of their income to Tzedakah, and even an individual who receives Tzedakah is still expected to give.
We often do not have concrete answers for why G-d has asked us to do certain things. But, within the notions of Tzedakah lie some very important life lessons.
Responsibility: Human beings are responsible for each other. There is purpose and meaning in caring for others.
Obligation: When we are given obligations, we must ensure that we follow through on them. Just as a parent or an employee has obligations to fulfill, we also have ethical responsibilities to care for other people.
Compassion: When we give to others and see their life struggles, we learn compassion and empathy. Stepping out of your own world and into someone else’s provides a broader view and connects you with what’s really important in life.
Money Management: Yes, we even receive financial insight through the giving of Tzedakah. If you’ve committed to giving 10% of your income, you must make adjustments in your budget to anticipate the charitable expenses.
I’ve decided to buy my son one of those banks that are divided into four sections – save, spend, invest and donate. This way, he can see that his money (most of it) is still his and when the “donate” part is filled, we can sit down together and talk about who he would like to help.
If you’d like information on how to determine if a charity is a good one, go to:
For the top rated American Charities – as decided by the American Institute of Philanthropy, go to:
To learn more about Jewish giving opportunities, go to: