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How Tzedakah Heals The World #616

02/28/2020 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

How Tzedakah Heals the World

It was an unusually cold night — even for Edmonton, Canada — when, just after dinner, we heard a knock at our front door.

I squeezed the door handle to find a middle-aged couple standing on our welcome mat, with a series of packets and brochures in their arms.

“We represent the Diabetes Association,” the woman said as a white fog exited her lips. “Could you please support us with a donation?”

“Come in,” my wife replied, as they stepped into our heated entry. “We’ll be back in a moment.”

As she returned with a pen and check book, we noticed the man looking up at the Mezuzah on our doorpost. As Patte handed a contribution to the couple, he turned, nodded to his wife, and noted.

“See, I told you. Every time we go to a house with one of those little boxes up there, we leave with a donation.”

As I watched them trudge down our driveway to the next house, I smiled. It said to me, that a number of fellow Jews in the neighborhood had also contributed.

It also confirmed that in the minds of the canvassers, the Mezuzah was synonymous with Judaism, and the giving of charity.

To be clear, most religions preach and practice giving to others, but perhaps few make it more “mandatory” as the Jewish people. For us, Tzedakah is not an option, but rather a commandment.

Many of today’s Jewish customs emanate from the small villages of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There, Tzedakah was a way of giving thanks to God for good fortune, and to “pay it forward.”

Within the “Anatevkas” of Europe, upon the birth of a child, it was usual for a couple to donate money to the poor.

At a funeral, mourners would distribute coins to beggars, in order to keep the giving spirit of their departed alive.

Before lighting the Sabbath candles, it was traditional for the woman of the house to drop a coin into the charity box. It represented how precious families are to us.

Within our own family, when we approached a homeless person, we would often hand a dollar or two to our daughters, so that they could experience the act of Tzedakah.

I have done the same with our 12-year-old grandson, Mason.

Indeed, by engaging in small acts of righteousness, we possess the ability to uplift the entire world. Professor Reuven Kimelman once noted, “Tzedakah may not save us, but it makes us worth saving.”

It is why this week’s Torah portion, titled Terumah — (donations) — is so important.

Within it, the Torah describes the gifts which were donated by the Israelites to build the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary which housed the 10 Commandments.

The Israelites contributed gold, silver, copper, multi-colored yarn, fine linen, goat’s hair, ram and dolphin skins, acacia wood, spices, oils, and precious stones.

How all these materials appeared just months after the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt has been the subject of great speculation, and imagination. The Talmud speaks of them coming from the Garden of Eden — hidden to that point. Other Sages posit that they were acquired from the Egyptians upon the Israelites’ departure from Egypt.

Either way, within Judaism, we regard donating our best not as a burden — but rather as a joy.

In today’s terms, it reminds us how lucky we are to be alive — and how privileged we are to live in America.

It is why this week’s Parashah is so important. It reminds us of the donations thousands of Israelites made to give thanks to God. It also inspires us to look at our lives today.

Are we doing enough to express our gratitude, and to uplift the lives of others?

Next weekend, we will celebrate the joyous holiday of Purim. We will read the Book of Esther which recounts the story of Esther and Mordechai defeating Haman and his band of anti-Semites.

We dress in costumes. We enjoy uplifting beverages and we consume a variety of sugar based products.

But even within our joy, we are reminded of the need to create a more just world.

Indeed, the word Tzedakah emanates from the root word Tzedek — meaning justice.

It is our practice to send Shallach Manot — bags of “sweet portions” to family and friends. We are also commanded to send charity to those in need — so that at least for one day — everyone can rise above their daily travails.

Within our congregation — rather than “hopping up” on carbohydrates, we send donations to the local food pantry. If you are so moved, you can call or email the office (516-676-5080, and donate $18 to the cause.

Isn’t it interesting that even within our traditional holiday of happiness and abandon, we are reminded to share our joy with others? And it all stems from this seemingly mundane Parashah which focuses on the idea of donating our best.

And that is the bottom line. For when we give, and elevate the lives of others, we invite God to dwell among us.

Indeed, within every action, within every life cycle event, within every holiday, there exists an opportunity to express gratitude.

Within Judaism, we do not believe that God rewards us with financial success. Rather, God blesses us with an inner peace.

And the porthole to that inner piece is contained within the act of giving — of making space within our lives — to enable God to dwell within.

And that extends from the Mezuzah on our doorpost, to the most joyous and precious moments of our lives.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv,

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780