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The Concept of Tzedakah

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on June 19, 2006

“To each and everyone according to his needs, from each and everyone according to his ability.”

That is what Tzedakah is all about – a Just distribution of Society’s resources, so that no-one is in such need that he has reason to ask for assistance. It is not to be mistaken for charity – charity is based on the idea that one is better off then the other, thus creating an unequal relationship which in the end only serves to cement poverty and inequality. Charity assumes that the ones in need of assistance are in need of assistance on all levels of life and have nothing to contribute and nothing of worth to give to the Community. Charity is in and of itself extremely egotistical, because it puts focus on the giver rather than on the receiver. Just think of the idea that giving to charity is tax-deductable! Give to charity and you don’t have to pay your due to the Community…yeah real philantropic.

Tzedakah takes into consideration that all people have something they can contribute to the common good of the Community, it also takes into consideration that we are all in need in some respect, therefore on equal footing with each other. It doesn’t ask people to pull themselves up by the boot-straps, regardless of whether they have boots or not – it makes sure they have boots and no reason to pull anything.

In Judaism the highest level of Tzedakah is making sure a person is self-sufficient – i.e that he can provide for himself.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”

It has always struck me as ‘interesting’ that so many people who profess to be Conservatives also profess to be Religious – but find the idea of Tzedakah offensive and threatening. It seems contradictory. Most Religions, teach some sort of “care for the weak”, yet those who profess to be the most Religious are often those who complain that the weak and poor in society are ‘mooching’ off of the rich. It doesn’t add up.

Being without means doesn’t mean that you have nothing at all, it means that you have something else of value. Tzedakah ensures that what you have is valued as enriching to Society.

Maybe the poor shoe maker is poor in a finacial sense, and needs Tzedakah to provide for his kids – but he is rich in knowledge on how to make shoes, which means he can teach. The Rabbi might not be very well off, and some times need assistance to make ends meet – but he has one thing in abundance – knowledge of Torah, which provides Spirtual richness to the Community. The Artist may not be rich at all, but what he creates enriches peoples’ lives by providing beauty that opens peoples’ souls and hearts…and so on and so forth – monetary wealth is good, but not having monetary wealth is not equivalent to being a parasite.

It’s time that the Haves of our World start realizing that the Have Nots might indeed have both wealth and riches, their only need is Tzedakah – Just distribution of the World’s Resources on a daily basis, because 1% of the World’s population sitting on all the money, complaining that the rest of us are sucking them dry, at the same time handing out breadcrumbs to make themselves feel good doesn’t go any where near putting your money where you mouth is in relation to G-d.


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