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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Money makes the world go round

Sukkah 49

Frustrated by the distinct status we accord those who financially support Jewish institutions, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz is said to have once quipped, “The world stands on three things: on money, on money and on money.” 

Giving tzedakah (charity) is one of the most important mitzvos.  Without the generosity of countless individuals, we would not have witnessed the incredible growth of Jewish institutions in the State of Israel and throughout the diaspora that we have merited over the last half century.   

We owe so much to those whose munificence has brought Jewish life back from the brink of destruction. Tzedakah has built synagogues, schools, yeshivos, communities, as well as saving the lives of so many individuals and families in need.  Is there any act more worthy than the giving of tzedakah?

The prophet Hosea declared, “Sow yourselves charity [seeds] and reap [your crop] according to kindness.” 

Rabbi Elazar derives two lessons from this verse.  Firstly, performance of kind deeds is better than giving charity, since sowing seeds does not always bear fruit, whereas reaping crops always feeds one’s family.  Secondly, one is rewarded for the mitzvah of tzedakah commensurate with the measure of kindness one shows when giving the money.

Furthermore, the Talmud offers three advantages of kind deeds over charity:
1. The mitzvah of charity is only performed with your money.  Kind deeds may be performed by yourself or your money. 
2. Charity is only for poor people.  Kind deeds may be performed for both poor and rich.
3. Charity is for the living.  Kind deeds may be performed for either the living or the dead, such as ensuring a proper funeral and burial. 

Tzedakah fuels our machine.  Without it, we would cease to move forward.  But the drivers are the people who have dedicated themselves to using that fuel effectively.   Our Sages teach that one who collects money for the poor is greater than the givers themselves.  Likewise, one who invests time in community building, says Rabbi Elazar, is even greater than the one who donated the funds.  Fuel by itself is useless; it must be poured into a machine to achieve its potential.

Some people have been blessed with the wherewithal to support our people financially.  Others have dedicated time and effort to supporting through their deeds.  Ideally, one must strive to excel in both of these areas.  We are obligated to donate a minimum of ten percent and as much as twenty percent not only of our money, but more importantly of our time and expertise!

Many synagogues raise a huge proportion of their annual budget during the aliyot (calls to bless the Torah) over the High Holy days, as wealthy individuals make substantial pledges upon being called up.  The gabbaim (lay ritual directors) scrutinize the membership list to ensure that they will get the best ‘bang for their buck.’  At the Family Shul, we always make sure to apportion a number of aliyot to members who may not have the means to donate a significant cash amount, but have gone above and beyond in their volunteer efforts for the synagogue and community.  Without these individuals, all the money in the world would bear no fruit. 


Are you doing your share of kind deeds for those in need?  When you give charity, are you doing the mitzvah in the kindest way possible?  Are you donating at least ten percent of your time and expertise to individuals and institutions?  And are you doing your part to protect the dignity of all human beings both during their lifetimes and after?