Berel Weiss was a well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles. On a daily basis people in need would wait to see him after services in his Los Angeles Synagogue; each received help. It was not just the needy people who benefitted. Jewish organizations also knew Mr. Weiss had an open hand to all. He once told me that he was struggling with the Mitzvah of giving Tzedakah (usually translated as “charity”) and he asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice. The Rebbe’s response: “Every time you write a check you should feel joy in helping another .”
The Hebrew word for giving is Tzedakah – the word charity is an inaccurate translation. The proper meaning of tzedakah is “justice or righteousness.” Judaism does not view giving as an act of kindness, but as acting with responsibility.
Some people are naturally generous – others are not. Over the years I have uncovered a major difference in what prompts people to give. I have found it is a question about how we view our money. Some have the attitude, “I earned the money I can spend it how I choose.” Others see money and success in a deeper, more spiritual fashion. “Yes I worked hard, but the success is a blessing from Above. I am a steward of the money I have been blessed with and I have a responsibility to help others and the community.”
One can ask an interesting question. Why did G-d create a world with those who have resources and those who are in need? Why does the survival of Judaism depend on the kindness of individuals? It could have been much simpler, in a more perfect world everyone would have what they need, and no one would go hungry. Judaism could flourish without having to raise money.
G-d provides us with a remarkable opportunity. With our giving we have the power and ability to transform the world into a better place. Money makes a difference. An investment in Jewish education will insure a Jewish future for a child. Support of those who are hungry will help them survive. Our giving is a sacred act of caring and compassion for one another. When we give we act in a G-dly fashion.
With an open hand we can build a strong and vibrant community. At the same time we model for our children the Jewish ideal of caring for the community and others. And we should remember as we write each check, to have Simcha Shel Mitzvah, the joy of the Mitzvah – just as Mr. Weiss. Α
Rabbi Eliezrie is at Congregation
Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.