Tzedakah or charity


By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
July 7, 2013
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It is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes (10:2), “The wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but the fool’s heart is at his left.” This quotation should have no place in a Liberal Jewish congregation as it is a blatant ‘leftist’ statement, perpetuating the myth of the superiority of those more used to using their right side than left! I hope that Wimbledon and the forthcoming Ashes series against the Aussies will do enough to demonstrate the equality of both and indeed the lauding of those whose use of the left hand or arm is often described in magical, even mystical terms! I of course want to apply the term metaphorically and if I offend then do chastise me at Kiddush.

“The wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but the fool’s heart is at his left.” Our Sages, the ancient Rabbis applied this verse to Zack’s parasha. “The wise man is Moses, while the fools are the children of Reuben and Gad (Num 32:1-32), who highlighted the least important matter over the most important because they loved their money more than their souls. For they said to Moses, ‘We will build sheep-folds here for our flocks and towns for our children (32:16). Moses admonishes them: ‘First build towns for your children, and then sheep-folds for your flocks.’ And the Rabbis reported that God tells the Reubenites and Gadites off by saying, ‘You love your cattle (i.e. your welath), more than your souls (i.e. your children). This way of living brings no blessing.’ (Num Rabbah, Mattot, 22:9).

Our Sagely tradition is not altogether consistent as in a Rabbinic aphorism they stated with a wonderful demonstration of their understanding of human nature: “Three things injure the body: heartache, stomach trouble, and an empty purse, which is the worst of them all (Kohelet Rabbah 7)!’ So realistic were they that in another aphorism we read, “All the organs of the body depend on the heart, and the heart depends on the purse!”

I could go on with the ancient Rabbis rather humorous observations of the world around them but all these pithy notions are trumped by the most important invention of the Rabbis concerning wealth. That is their use of the Hebrew root tzedek to derive their term for ‘charity, ’ tzedakah. They linked the giving of charity at its core to the concept of justice.

Whilst the Biblical authors and the ancient Rabbis on countless occasions rail against wealth, they do so not against the holding of wealth per se, but against its misuse and the dangers to the soul, the character of an individual of means. Judaism does not demand poverty of its adherents in fact quite the opposite. It celebrates obtaining the means to fulfill the mitzvah, the commandment of tzedakah, of bringing justice, bettering society by using wealth affectively.

Zack, your Bar Mitzvah is one of the last of a bumper crop of millennium babes! This year we have had nearly 30 Bnei Mitzvah celebrated together with countless other lifecycle simchas: baby blessings and weddings, significant birthdays and anniversaries. We have also been saddened by a large number of bereavements in the community.

Marking so many of these I have been delighted by the generosity of our members who make donations, giving tzedakah to our community. What does tzedakah mean in our Synagogue community? As with the commandments of the Torah, they allow us to enhance our ritual and ethical life. We have been able to continue the work that will see us create our new community room, equipped as a café, library, adult learning space and small sanctuary: hopefully to be finished by the end of the year. We will in time be able to refurbish the back entrance to the Synagogue and your donations to the Flower Fund insure that we are always blessed with uplifting arrays on Shabbat and the chagim and are equipped with beautiful ritual objects as one would expect.

Your donations to the Care Fund have allowed us to host the more mature members of the community for lunch and tea and you have enabled many young people and adults to attend enriching programmes offered by LJY-NETZER, our youth movement and Liberal Judaism. You have also insured that the Rabbis are able to make suitable donations to charitable organisations that seek to create a more equal society for those in need.

Might I humbly suggest a more politically correct updating of our quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes that I hope offends no one: ‘The wise person’s heart is manifest through their generous actions, the fool’s heart is closed to others.’

Zack, I pray that you will be successful in your life; that you use your skills and abilities, your ingenuity and awareness of opportunity to always be of means, even if it is not marked by having numerous cattle and sheep as the Reubenites and Gadites had! Yet most importantly, may you be happy with your achievements and always be of wise heart, always open to the needs of your family, community and society.

Safe in the knowledge of the generosity of our congregation this morning, Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu,Melekh ha’olam, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tzedakah. We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe: You sanctify us by Your commandments and enjoin us concerning the duty of tzedakah.

Hope you are saying Amen!

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