Sign In Forgot Password

Rabbi's Weekly Message

  Rabbi's Message 

This week’s message is brought to you by the letter T for Tzedakah.

Last week I wrote about mishloach manot and matanot l’evyonim - gifts to neighbors and friends and gifts for the poor.  Purim teaches us to consider our privilege and share with those less fortunate.  The concept behind this is one we know well - tzedakah.  And my favorite thing about tzedakah is that it is not simply charity.  Charity is the most common translation because it is the closest English concept.  But there is so much more to tzedakah.  Namely, the not-insignificant component of justice.  Engaging in acts of tzedakah isn’t just about giving money, or lending a hand at a soup kitchen, or donating old clothes or food.  We don’t do these things simply because we want to, we do them because we know we should.  The ultimate goal when we do tzedakah is to work to create a world where no one would *need* tzedakah anymore. 

The medieval philosopher, Moses Maimonides (Rambam) taught that there were eight levels of giving.  Often described as a ladder of tzedakah, Maimonides ranked different acts of tzedakah from worst to best.  According to him, the lowest level of giving was when we give grudgingly, whereas the highest level of giving is helping a person become self-sufficient.  So both intent and content matter.  It’s not just about what we give but also how we give.  It is better to give with a good open heart than only after being asked.  But it is even better still to give enough to help a person out of their need.  We should focus on how we feel when we give but we should also focus on how the other feels when we give. 

What can you do to help someone shake the shackles of need?  We are not all millionaires who can wipe away financial struggles; we don’t all have extra rooms in our homes or positions in our businesses to ease a person from homelessness.  But we all have hearts.  And hands.  And sometimes, an open heart, or an open hand, can lift someone out of a deep dark hole.  It may not solve everything but it can pull them out towards the end of their tunnel.  The highest form of tzedakah is helping someone move beyond need.  Sometimes what they need is support.  And sometimes a hug can be the support they need.  We should hug more.  Smile more.  Love more.

On Purim, when we give gifts to the poor, when we engage in acts of tzedakah we signal to others that we are working to bring light to darkness and build a world where needs are met and people are cared for.

Rabbi Rochelle

Fri, February 21 2020 26 Shevat 5780