By Carole J. Stone
Tzedakah is a Hebrew word meaning “righteousness,” but it is more commonly used to refer to the giving of charity. This is not the kind of charity that is spontaneous, such as giving to someone begging on the street. Rather, it is a continuing requirement of all Jews and an important part of living a spiritual life. It is incumbent upon us as Jews to donate a portion of all we have and all we earn to those less fortunate than ourselves. Many Jewish homes have a pushke, the Yiddish word for charity box. Each Friday night just before the Sabbath begins, money—coins or bills—is put in the pushke for a designated charity, to keep the concept of tzedakah always on our minds.
Tzedakah is not philanthropy, which is voluntary, but a religious obligation that must be performed regardless of one’s financial means. In fact, tzedakah is one of the three main acts that can offset an unfavorable heavenly decree (the other two being Teshuva—returning to God—and Tefilah—prayer). Maimonides, the famous 12th-century Torah scholar, physician, and philosopher, suggested that there are eight levels of tzedakah: giving grudgingly, giving reluctantly, giving when asked, giving without being asked, giving without knowing who the recipient is, giving without knowing who the donor is and giving when the donor and the recipient are unknown to each other. And finally, the highest form of tzedakah is to help sustain someone before they become impoverished, by donation, loan, helping to find employment, or setting up a business so they will not become dependent on others.
We, as individuals, give tzedakah, and Jewish organizations do the same. CHESMA, A.C., the Jewish Cultural and Community Center of San Miguel de Allende, has a robust tzedakah program. Although we give, on average, about 10 percent of our annual income, during this pandemic we have doubled our giving, appreciating that there are many more needy people here than usual. CHESMA has sponsored a variety of different charities over the years. In the past, we supported a project we called the Mexigap program in partnership with DIF (National System for the Integral Development of Families), to pay for those essential things, such as colostomy bags, that are relevant to a condition but not provided by DIF. We purchased masks by the hundreds to pass out to our neighbors in colonias Guadiana and Allende. We have also given generously to local charities such as Feed the Hungry, Amigos al Cien, Patronato Pro Ninos, the Red Cross-Cruz Roja (through the SMA Community Foundation), and Por Amor a la Guadalupe. In addition, every Chanukah we build a candelabra, called a Menorah or Chanukiah, out of canned and dried foods which we then donate to SOME: So Others May Eat.
Our Jewish community, CHESMA, is fortunate to have received our own tzedakah from our members, and not only are we obligated, but we also derive joy from sharing our blessings with the communities around us. Try it—the feeling is intoxicating.