Friday, September 2, 2022

Rethinking the Paradigm of Tzedaka

As we approach the High Holidays and once again are in a time of introspection, I believe it is time for reflection on an essential part of Jewish communal life: Tzedaka. Many of us are afflicted with donor fatigue as there seem to be never-ending campaigns soliciting us for our hard-earned dollars. Sometimes we feel the organizations or people asking us for Tzedaka are imperfect and thus not worthy of being recipients of our charitable giving. The times we live in are also unsettling as inflation has risen to record highs not seen in decades. The economy has entered the shaky ground, with Federal Reserve recently ruling out a pause to hikes in interest rates. It would make sense for all the above reasons for someone to be more conservative in their charitable giving this season. From a spiritual perspective, we must remember that if this mitzvah were super easy for everyone to fulfill, there would be minimal reward attached to the endeavor. The larger point is communicated in last week's Parsha with the Mitzvah of Tzedaka. The Torah states,נתון תתן לו ולא ירע לבבך בתתך לו כי בגלל הדבר הזה יברכך ה' אלקיך בכל מעשיך  This is translated as "You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing, the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors." The Talmud interprets it succinctly with the response of Rabbi Akiva to the challenge of why didn't God provide for the needy directly if He loves them! Rabbi Akiva responded that it was to give the donor the privilege of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah!  The insight here is nothing short of stunning! Of course, G-d can provide for all the financial needs of the shuls, day schools, yeshivas, kollelim, etc. But, G-d created this paradigm where organizations and individuals representing them must go to great lengths to solicit funds to give the donor the privilege to contribute. I had this experience this week in which I solicited an individual for Tzedaka, and he responded with a commitment of thousands of dollars. I followed up my meeting with an email thanking him for his generous gift. His response was short, concise, and totally classy. He wrote. "Thank you for the opportunity."   The great lesson here is that we are all but stewards of our financial resources. If we have the opportunity to give some Tzedaka, we should seize the moment and go out of our comfort zone. In a few short weeks, we will stand on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and once again plead with the Almighty for the privilege to merit life. Nothing is guaranteed, and we can't assume we are entitled to anything. We stand before the Al-Mighty and plead for nothing less than the privilege to live another year. Our tradition also teaches us as we declare in the liturgy, ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזירה. This is translated as "Repentance, Prayer, and Charity can overturn an unfavorable decree." We will be given ample opportunities to be charitable in the coming days. Let's remember not to squander the moment.  Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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