This Christmas season, I encourage you to celebrate the spirit of giving by embracing the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah!
More Faith, More Fun!
Our family gets the honor of having blended faiths coming together during the holidays. To share in each other’s traditions we incorporate a little bit of Hanukkah along with Christmas and even sprinkle on a dash of Santa and the Elves.
My niece and nephew look at the stories of Santa like they do a MARVEL movie staring Thor – both just great stories to expand imagination and excitement. We put up a nativity to remember the story of baby Jesus, also understanding that the factual birth date is actually in the Spring. We light the Menorah and make latkes during Hanukkah, though I still don’t know the words to the songs. It’s a colorful tapestry of holiday cheer!
And then there are the things that all men of all faiths can embrace. This time of year that includes sparkling lights, gift giving, and sharing meals with loved ones. After presents and dinner, we all sit down and watch our favorite Christmas movies. Mine happen to be Elf and Die Hard.
As I have watched my brother and his wife celebrate Jewish traditions, I have been blessed to learn some new things. One thing I’ve learned is that calling yourself “Jewish” can mean different things. It can be an ethnicity indicator, a practiced faith, or simply that your genealogy stems from the original Abraham. Another is that the Jewish people are some of the most loving, inclusive, and understanding people I have known. Overall, it is a lifestyle and culture as much as it is a religion. And with that comes many traditions and tenants to embrace.
Allow me to introduce the concept of Tzedakah.
Usually referred to as charity, the word Tzedakah (tsuh-dah-kah) in Hebrew means “justice”. As in social justice and moral obligation. Basically, the way in which all humans are responsible to care for those in need and to enhance society. While the western understanding of charity is basically limited to giving money to the poor, Tzedakah relates to a broader sense of the term. Not just to provide a stand alone monetary handout, but to provide a means to rise above the struggles and lift each other up across the community. There are considered to be 8 levels of Tzedakah ranging from giving to the poor begrudgingly all the way to empowering someone to become self sufficient. Jews are required to give of what they can to help those less fortunate. In other words, we are blessed to be a blessing. (sound familiar?)
We are Blessed to BE a Blessing
That’s the part of Tzedakah that I can embrace. We are all blessed in some area of our lives, which enables us to bless others. What we have, what we have learned, what we are capable of – has all grown from something that was at some point smaller. You are able to share your abundance to help others grow also.
The goal of all this ‘Tzedakah’ is to make people self sufficient, not to just to keep them surviving and dependent on others. Social justice is achieving the balance that allows everyone to become healthy and thriving members of society. Learning through our struggle, becoming stronger and wiser. As we grow, we become able to give more and more. We bless those less fortunate today so they in turn can give tomorrow, and continue the cycle to help others reach the same goal.
The basic concept of Tzedakah is to give a helping hand to those who are struggling to lift themselves. Who can’t get on board with that?
Give Graciously, Give Genuinely
Giving Tzedakah can be thru money, or time, or the grace bestowed to another. There are countless ways we can bless those in need of love and support. The important thing is we find what we can do, and we do it. What greater purpose could we have as humans than to lift each other up and make the world a better place?
Toy drives and charity fundraisers are common functions this time of year. A season full of love and joy when we all try to remember those in need and give cheerfully. It’s a beautiful thing to see a child open a gift from a stranger that shared some of what they had to give joy to another. It’s humbling to share a hot meal and warm hug with a veteran who was alone on Christmas day. But the spirit of giving makes us feel good, and the goodness spreads.
What about the rest of the year when our neighbor’s may struggle to put food on the table, have access to necessary hygiene or medical items, or fall ill and need help cooking or cleaning the house?
Embrace ‘Tzedakah’ this Season, and Always
There are opportunities all around us to bless others. Every. Single. Day.
We are not alone on this Earth. We are all on this great journey together. Perhaps someday we will see a world where have learned to live in harmony and peace, both inside of ourselves and with each other.
If you are looking for some ways to give back this holiday; check out these amazing organizations: