Now that I am thinking about values, I cherish and wish to pass on, they spill forth, integrity, honesty, compassion and in this season of giving tzedakah, a Hebrew word we often translate as charity.
Yesterday at a Bat Mitzvah at Temple Israel in Boston, I listened as Suzie, a young cousin, described her tzedakah project, volunteering for an organization that gives birthday parties to homeless children. The project brought her to a homeless shelter in Roxbury. How lovely and poised she was talking about her experiences. How well versed in Hebrew as she read from the Torah, led us prayer. How articulate as she interpreted her Torah portion. Yesterday, standing on the bima, the altar, her grandparents and her parents passed her the Torah, both literally, and figuratively, handing her the scroll, passing on Jewish tradition. Jewish values.
I never had a Bat Mitzvah. My sons did not have Bar Mitzvahs. No formal Jewish education for any of us. I came back to Judaism too late for that. Sitting in the sanctuary, yesterday, I realized my own journey toward a Bat Mitzvah would be the opposite of Suzie’s. I would not receive the Torah; I would pass it on to my grandchildren in a more formal way than I’d done for my sons. For Torah is more than the scroll, more than Midrash, those years of interpretation of the texts. Torah is a way of life integrally involving mitzvot or good deeds. And tzedakah.
Before Suzie’s service, I spent time in a small room off a corridor viewing an exhibit where artists had painted, constructed and built tzedakah boxes. A traditional tzedakah box is just that, a box with a slot where you drop in coins or bills, then choose a charity to which you’ll donate. These tzedakah boxes were works of art. Words accompanied the exhibit, and I learned that tzedakah literally means righteousness or justice. This is the concept of Jewish charity I want to pass on. In Jewish tradition, charity is not a favor we give to the poor, but something the poor have a right to, and we as donors have an obligation to provide. And most important is the spirit with which we give, for the value of our gift increases with human kindness. And the most highly valued gift of all is a gift of the self.
Happy giving to all.