November 29th is Giving Tuesday, a worldwide holiday that encourages giving back to our communities. With one voice, non-profits reach out on Giving Tuesday to ask for our time, skills, and dollars to make a difference in other people’s lives. Giving back to the community is a long-standing Jewish tradition. Isaiah 32:17 says, “and the work of tzedakah shall bring peace.”
I asked Hebrew Seminary professor, Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub, to share a “Giving Tuesday” teaching with us. Rabbi Vaisrub agrees that Tzedakah speaks to something greater.
My favorite teaching on the obligation to support people in our community comes from Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Book of Agriculture, Rules of Gifts to the Poor 10:1:
“We are obligated to be careful with regard to the commandment of tzedaqah to a greater extent than all [other] positive commandments, because tzedaqah is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Abraham, our patriarch, as [Genesis 18:19] states: “I have known him, because he commands his children… to perform tzedaqah.”
“The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand except through tzedaqah, as [Isaiah 54:14] states: “You shall be established through righteousness [tzedaqah].”
“And Israel will be redeemed solely through tzedaqah, as [ibid. 1:27] states: “Zion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through charity [tzedaqah].”
Note how Maimonides enumerates [and thus connects] four seemingly disconnected ideas, all through tzedaqah:
1. Personal righteousness
2. Proper governance / political stability
3. True faith proper religious belief
4. National redemption
In this rule, Maimonides is NOT merely teaching us why tzedaqah is important: any one of the reasons he enumerates would more than suffice, so why waste ink and parchment?
Rather, Maimonides teaches us how tzedaqah binds these different aspects of people’s lives together: the personal, the social, the religious, and ultimately the redemptive. In a particular way, acts of tzedaqah, which encompass justice and kindness, create individuals, and communities, and religious movements, and ultimately a nation, capable of actualizing human potential. Tzedaqah is thus the glue that ultimately binds people together, which speaks to its power to transform the world, micro and macro, physical and spiritual.
Rabbi Dr. Goldhamer wants to add that it is a Godcidence that we celebrate Giving Tuesday, during the same week that we read Parshat Toldot, the scriptural reading for this week. The essence of this parasha is good and evil. Jacob represents good and his twin brother Esau represents evil. I believe this simplistic understanding misses the point. What is evil? In Kabbalah, evil is selfishness. We are all concerned about our own welfare. We are all concerned about how to improve our own lives. We all do things to benefit ourselves. This is considered evil in Kabbalah.
Everyone is created with a desire to receive for oneself alone. There is a difference between receiving for yourself and receiving in order to share. The second form of receiving is considered good in Kabbalah. Kabbalah comes from the root word meaning “to receive.” But Hashem wants us to receive in order to share and do tzedakah. And so, our Kabbalistic tradition teaches us to receive in order to share.
Nothing is wrong with accumulating millions of dollars and becoming wealthy. As a matter of fact, it’s a good thing to accumulate wealth–but we need to accumulate so that we can share what we accumulate. This is the essence of the teaching of this week’s parasha. We need to receive in order to share. When we receive and we do tzedakah, we are doing a high mitzvah in Judaism. This is the essence of this week’s teaching of Toldot and Giving Tuesday.
For Giving Tuesday, Hebrew Seminary is asking that you donate food and/or funds to Congregation Bene Shalom’s The Brian Glassenberg Food Pantry at Congregation Bene Shalom, 4435 W. Oakton Street Skokie, IL 60076 or call 847/ 677- 3330.