Friday, December 26, 2008


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about tzedakah. Often translated as “charity,” tzedakah really means "justice." It’s a mitzvah – a commandment, not at all voluntary. The concept of tzedakah often involves other Jewish concepts and middot or values:
  • gemilut chasadim – deeds of lovingkindness
  • kol israel areivim zeh ba'zeh - all of Israel is responsible for each other
  • tikkun olam – repair of the world
  • kavod – respect for people, human dignity

What triggered these thoughts – and their intensity? Several factors:

As you may or may not know, I am a co-director of the Mitzvah Heroes Fund, Inc. I’m the one who’s privileged to send out acknowledgement receipts to all our donors. Generally, I try to get the acknowledgements mailed within a couple of days of receiving the funds. Unfortunately, I’d fallen behind since early November. Each time I’d turn my computer on, a reminder would flash on my “To-do” list.

Mitzvah Heroes is very close to receiving notification of our approval as a 501(c)(3) organization. We’ve had “approval pending” on all our materials since March (our incorporation), but some donors are reluctant to donate until final approval is received. In light of the Madoff scandal, I can understand that sentiment. [The IRS does allow tax-deductions for contributions to “approval pending” organizations. Just thought you might like to know that!]

Mitzvah Heroes has also been involved in a couple of events recently. At one, we spoke to middle school aged day school students about the wide variety of tzedakah opportunities available and how to key their projects to their own interests.

In another setting, we were part of a Chanukah program. We spoke to fifth grade day school students about three Israeli “Mitzvah heroes” – organizations that make a big difference in people’s lives with very little bureaucratic process or overhead. We presented the students with a tzedakah challenge: If they organized a campaign to persuade lower school students to “vote” with their tzedakah which of the three recipients was the most deserving of funds, we would match their funds up to $180. The challenge could last only a week, because the following weekend, we had a courier leaving for Israel who could deliver the funds as allocated. We compared their collecting these funds to the purpose of the shamash/helper candle in the hanukiah/Chanukah menorah – they would be able to bring “light” to the recipients of their funds.

The students met our challenge – and exceeded it! In 5 days’ time, they raised $389 – of which we were able to match $274 ($180 plus money thrown in a pot at another engagement, plus tzedakah from my home, plus “found” money in an old wallet, plus…. you get the idea!) The money left for Israel on 12/21 and was distributed by the 24th. (I got a call on the 23rd, that they’d received an additional $27.35 – could we please pick it up? Of course I said “absolutely!”) Over $250 consisted of coins. Little donations that, when added to other little donations, made a big difference.

Our final MHF event of the month occurred in the middle of the Tzedakah Challenge Campaign. We set up a table at a Chanukah Fair at a nursing home. We had materials displayed from a number of the Mitzvah heroes we support and had the opportunity to talk tzedakah, mitzvot, and heroes with many of the residents, the chaplain, and guest speaker Danny Siegel, Mitzvah maven extraordinaire. It was a wonderful place to spend a day. We collected $70 that people added to the pot, if they wished (which we used to apply as matching funds for the Tzedakah Challenge). The atmosphere in the home that day was one of gentle kavod demonstrated towards the residents. It soothed my soul to see the respect with which they were treated and their delight in their ability to share their memories. I left feeling nurtured.

In addition to the above, I’ve also been asked to design an educational learning program for fifth grade students in our region on tzedakah. I’ve been grappling with what specific concepts we wanted to teach, in addition to which strategies we’ll employ, and which organizations we’d like to ask to participate. Yesterday, the pieces finally came together.
Our three key concepts will focus on the following:

*Maimonides’ 8 Levels of Tzedakah

*Universalism vs. Particularism in making donations

From Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, “If a person has food in his home, and wishes to
perform an act of tzedakah with it, first he must sustain his father and
mother; if there is anything remaining he should sustain his brothers and
sisters; after that the other members of his household; after that, other
members of his family; after that, those who dwell in his immediate area;
after that, those who dwell in the neighborhood; from then on, he may
increase his benevolence among the Jewish people.”

*Due Diligence in checking out recipient organizations -- see Smart Tzedakah

A person should not contribute to a tzedakah fund unless he knows its
management is reliable and knows how to conduct the fund properly. (Yoreh Deah

If you haven’t yet made your final allocations for the current secular year – please do so. In today’s tight economic times, your pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars are needed now more than ever.

No comments: