My Dad’s Open Hand
Dad was a giver. At his funeral, people I hardly knew pulled me aside and quietly thanked me for his generosity: “He really bailed us out,” or “He secretly supported us during that hard time,” and “Your Dad made a difference when we didn’t know how to ask for help.” I was only nineteen, and a very hidden part of my Dad’s life was unveiled for me. He was a living example of tzedakah, and he used his business success to bless others. Right in our midst, and I did not even know it! I knew he was a good tipper at restaurants… but I had no idea that giving is a lifestyle.
Growing up in a largely Jewish neighborhood of New York City, one couldn’t miss the small white and blue tins on counters, desks, and in seemingly random places. These boxes had a slot in the top, wide enough to fit coins (and paper bills). They were all over our Hebrew School, where my friends and I wreaked havoc three days a week until our Bar Mitzvahs at age thirteen. It seemed that every newsstand, candy store, retail shop, and even some offices had these small tins. The word Tzedakah in Hebrew emblazoned the side. As kids we understood that these small containers were “for the poor,” or “for mitzvahs” (blessings). They were part and parcel of Jewish life. Everyone dropping in a few coins easily collected impressive sums for distribution.
Tzedakah literally means righteousness—but is commonly used to signify charity—from the Hebrew word tzedik , meaning righteousness, fairness, or justice.
In Judaism,tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, considered important parts of living a spiritual life by rabbis—and my grandmother! I can hear her voice, as she smiled and exhorted me to “do the right thing.” In the midst of my family’s inconsistent spirituality, the thread of tzedakah wove a direct line from the heart of God.
Unlike philanthropy or charity, which are voluntary, in Judaism tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation, to be performed regardless of financial standing, even by poor people.Tzedakah is considered one of the three acts that can annul a less-thanfavorable heavenly decree. This emphasis on our works as a way to salvation is a painful paradigm in the Jewish world. I mean, how can we ever be sure…?
Tzedakah is part of a larger framework of moral conduct—it is part of Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”)—the duty of every Jew to leave the world in better condition than we found it.
We who know Messiah Yeshua should apply these truths even higher … because He came to fulfill the law and let His light shine through us. When we live to see Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah manifested in this world, we do so by the leading of Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) and the Son of God. Baruch HaShem … Bless His Name!
Acts of tzedakah are performed on significant days: at weddings, on major holidays, at Passover and other feasts. The Sukkot (Tabernacles) version of hospitality, ushpizin, is considered a great blessing when we welcome any and all visitors to partake of God’s bounty in our sukkah. (For a touching and clever view of this practice, see the 2004 Israeli movie Ushpizin).
As Believers, this is the greatest gift we can give to the Jewish people, our family through Abraham: a clear presentation of the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). After all, the Apostle Paul tells us (Acts 20:35) that his Rabbi said it really is “more blessed to give than to receive.” Set out your own “blue and white box” and watch how God blesses you!