Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Tzedakah Now & Then


The word Tzedakah means "Rightiousness, charity, philanthropy."  There isn't a day that goes by that we are not approached by phone, by mail and/or personally to contribute funds to many worthy and not so worthy causes. 

The concept of Tzedakah existed eons of years ago, when our ancestors were asked to tithe a percentage of their crops, their harvest, to their fellow man. Historically and to this day Jews support many causes.  We are the people whose reputation is that we give to each other and support one another in times of need.  Statistically, we give more charity than any other religious group.  Much that we now contribute is given through agencies of all sorts.  We have "Rachmones" not only for our brethren but for other suffering people. 

Sometimes we give to "charities" that are not worthy, to groups that are not our "friends".  We are convinced to do this through ignorance and pressures placed upon us.  These so called impoverished strangers may be our enemies - people who dislike Jews and work against us.  There are enough Jewish poor and Jewish causes that we should support rather than filling the coffers of our enemies. 

There was a time when we gave to people who were in need by sending Pessach packages or "Schlach Mones" on Purim, etc. to the doors of our people whom we knew, or we gave on a personal level and were witness to those who were needy. It is best to give without fanfare, without needing to receive thanks or a return.  When we give charity, especially on an individual level, we must give it as it is stated in the Schema: "Bechol Levovcho, uvchol, nafschecho, ufchol meodecho" (with all our heart, with all our soul and with all of our strength).  Like the love that we have for "Hashem" we must show that love to our needy fellow Jews as we extend our gift to them. 

I must here share an experience that I had when I first came to America as as an escapee from the Holocaust.  My siblings and I were invited to the home of a Jewish family on Schabbat.  They would offer us a choice of a stick of gum or a piece of peanut brittle, which was very exciting for us.  At that time as a new refugee, a child of ten, I spoke very little English.  The father of the house would sing a song in Yiddish which I did understand and which ended our Friday evening visit with these folks:  "Schoen ist das Zigeunerleben Forio, sie wollen nur nemmen and gor nischt geben Forio."  I never returned for their charity and I have always remembered and learned a great deal from this painful experience.  It is better not to give than to hurt or ridicule a person, be it child or adult.  It is a "Nevere" to embarrass a fellow human being and negates any gift that we present in that fashion. If we cannot afford to be generous at a given time in our life we should refrain if it causes us hardship. None of us can give to every charity that exists or that requests funds.  If we can, we must remember to give without  strings!  


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (publ. 2002)

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