Rabbi’s Corner

Giving tzedakah is about more than numbers

There was a wealthy Jewish merchant in London who would frequently invite individuals soliciting charitable donations to his home. He would invite his child to come to those solicitations to listen to the charitable request. After the request was made, he would ask his son to bring his checkbook from the other room.

An individual soliciting on behalf of a charity once asked the generous donor, “You have people visiting you on a regular basis. Why do you always leave your checkbook in the other room?”

The donor answered: “I do it for the same reason I ask my son for his ‘help’ each time. I want him to learn how to give tzedakah (charity). It should be done often and it should take a little effort.”

Giving charity has become more widespread in recent times and has become an almost effortless transaction. Between automated monthly giving and endowment funds, giving today can be as quick as clicking a button or emailing a staffer at a foundation.

But, as that father was trying to teach his child, charity should be a special and frequent chore. In the words of the 12th-century sage Moses Maimonides (“Rambam”), “How often is more important than how much.”

Why? Because when you write a check for $365, a good cause gets another $365. But if you give a dollar every day for 365 days — then your hand becomes a giving hand, the author Tzvi Freeman explains. An anonymous Jewish sage wrote, “A person is more influenced by the things he does than by the knowledge he is taught.”

This is why the Lubavitcher Rebbe suggested making a pushka (charity box) a permanent fixture in your home or office. Affix it to a wall for daily giving in the morning. Or more correctly: Affix your house to it. “A charity box in a home or office,” the Rebbe taught, “redefines the entire space. It is no longer just a home, just an office. It is a center of kindness and caring.”

Despite our regular or annual giving, this season on the Jewish calendar comes and reminds us how to give.

On the joyous holiday of Purim that we just celebrated, we are told to give “gifts to the poor.” It means that on that specific day, we should come face to face with someone who doesn’t have the financial abilities that we do. That requires a determined attempt to find such a person, recognize their need and assist them. This is applicable even for those who already donated the “south wing” of a non-profit’s building.

A similar type of giving is required for the upcoming holiday of Passover. The opening paragraph of the Haggadah recited at the seder reads, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

There is an age-old Jewish custom called kimcha d’pischa, which means “flour for Passover” in Aramaic. Its observance aims to provide local individuals and families in need with the essentials to properly celebrate Passover. The collection for this charity (also called ma’ot chitim, “the wheat fund,” in Hebrew) begins 30 days prior to the holiday and continues until the funds are distributed, right up until the holiday.

Giving should take effort, and it is something that we should do with our heart and soul. Let’s continue the Jewish season of giving with a warm embrace and do it with intention and effort.

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