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Usually you get a free book in the mail every month as a subscriber, and sometimes you get little activities and CDs. This month they sent everyone these ADORABLE tzedakah boxes! Let me tell you what I’ve learned about them.
In Hebrew “צדקה” means “justice” or “righteousness”. It also puts a heavy amount of importance on charity. Interesting how those things all go together, right?
Another word that you might commonly see associated with tzedekah is “mitzvah”, which is the Hebrew term for commandments and other good deeds as required by Jewish law or doctrine. So what is a “bar mitzvah”? Its a religious ceremony in which a boy becomes a man by covenanting to keep the commandments, or become a son of the commandments. Who knew!? (Well, a lot of people, probably. But I didn’t!)
One more word for you – “Tanakh”, or the whole collection of Hebrew scripture, similar to, but not exactly the same, as the Old Testament. It is comprised of :
- the Torah (or the first five books of OT from Moses), which people often mistakenly use to name any Hebrew scripture in general. This is certainly the one name I’m most familiar with.
- the Nevi’im, or the Prophets
What does the Tanakh teach about the tzedakah mitzvah?
Usually in the Tanakh, “tzedekah” refers to displays of justice, such as this Jewish law laid out in Duetoronomy:
Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of the LORD. You may dun the foreigner; but you must remit whatever is due you from your kinsmen. There shall be no needy among you—since the LORD your God will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion— if only you heed the LORD your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you: you will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself; you will dominate many nations, but they will not dominate you. If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.-Deuteronomy 15
But, the first rule of the Hebrew written language is to not use vowels. Which makes this next verse in Daniel 4:24 interesting, because the consonants are the same (tz-d-k) but the word here is “tzidak” and is one of few places where the Tanakh focuses on charity to the poor.
Therefore, O king, may my advice be acceptable to you: Redeem your sins by beneficence and your iniquities by generosity to the poor; then your serenity may be extended.Daniel 4:24
Enter the Tzedakah Box
I would think that anywhere in the world you go, people (especially children) stash their cash and coins in piggy banks, jars and boxes of every shape and size. The tzedekah box is something of the same! Except that instead of hoarding up change for themself, Jewish families collect the spare money to be able to help someone else in need. It doesn’t have to be just money though. It could be clothes, toys, food, or any other donation. How great is that! And what a sweet practice for children to get excited about service!
In the second book of Melchim (or Kings), we learn of a biblical example where a tzedekah box was placed in the temple to help with necessary building repairs on the Holy Temple itself.
And Jehoiada the priest took one chest and bored a hole in its door; and he placed it near the altar on the right, where a person enters the house of the Lord: and the priests, the guards of the threshold, would put all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, into there.Melachim II 12:10
It’s a tradition that’s been around clearly since Biblical times and is supported by teachings in the Tanakh to not turn away beggars empty-handed.
So, how’s that for a crash course in a piece of Jewish doctrine and tradition. And what a better time than the winter holidays to teach your children a lesson about this people with a culture of giving and end it with a service activity?!
Ways to implement tzedekah in your family
- Make your own tzedekah box and start collecting coins
- Fill up a box or bag of toys or clothes to donate to someone in need
- Make a habit of taking coins with you this season for your children to give to the Santa’s and Red Cross collections at local shopping centers
- Put a box of water, granola bars and other good foods in your car to give to homeless people you see at public places that are safe to stop
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