Charity, Justice, and Being Righteous

Pretty much everybody knows the importance of giving charity. Aside from it being a commandment from G-d, it also makes us feel good to help out other people. But a few days ago I learned an interesting new perspective: Everybody alive is actually around only because we receive charity – from G-d! Some people receive their care packages straight from G-d Himself, while some people receive it mediated through other people. The point however is that each one of us is equal in our desperate need for our gifts from G-d in order to survive. These gifts include our money, jobs, food, water, and even abilities like walking, breathing, blinking, digesting, to name a few. Here are several thoughts of mine on the concept:

First, there is the idea that one can never be arrogant about whatever he or she is capable of or owns – from talents, to skills, and to possessions – because everything we own are actually just gifts. However it should be noted that being arrogant about your skills and possessions is very different from being proud of them. I think that one can be proud without being arrogant. I like how rabbi Zev Leff put it: “Being haughty or arrogant means saying ‘I got all these things for myself therefore I deserve rights.’ Being humble means saying ‘ G-d gave me everything and is entrusting me with responsibility.'” This means that being humble actually includes knowing you are blessed and that you have skills and talents – which includes a bit of being proud of yourself, I think – but also recognizing where they came from and using them appropriately. It is the difference of a child who opens a gift and says to his friends, “Look what I have!” as opposed to, “Look what my Dad gave me!”

Second, part of being grateful to G-d is taking care of and developing what we have – our talents, skills, and even our money. We are treasuring the gifts He gave us instead of leaving them to waste away. We are utilizing them fully instead of simply overlooking them. And with this of course, we must be careful not to throw His gifts back to His face by using them inappropriately.

Third, this concept leads to the idea that part of all of our job descriptions of being on this world are being G-d’s messengers. Included in all the blessings we regularly receive are blessings we are supposed to pass on to other people, things like money, time, and talent. Sometimes we are meant to pass them on to a stranger in need. Sometimes we are supposed to pass them on to people closer to us such as our friends and family. It is part of the job to carefully discern – with G-d’s help – who will most benefit from our help. A useful tool in figuring this out is pondering if the distraught person needs specifically your help or if there are others who they can possibly reach out to. Also, it should be noted that it is not necessarily that the person who gives more is “better.” We all exist within our own specific set of circumstances and therefore, some people can give more while others can give a little less. What is important is doing our best with what we have.

Fourth, sometimes our pride gets in our way of accepting things from other people, even things like kind words or an offer to help. But if we remembered that those things are still from G-d, just being mediated through other people, maybe we would be a little more open to accepting things now and then. It may be healthy for us to learn to accept, just as it is good for the other person to be able to fulfill their mission to pass on the package.

This is all linked to something very interesting: “charity” in Hebrew is tzedakah. But if one wanted to be more precise, “tzedekah” comes from the root word “tzedek” which means justice. It is so because when you give money to someone who needs it, you aren’t simply being charitable and kind hearted, you are being just. You are doing the right thing and giving these people what is rightfully theirs but was temporarily entrusted to you by G-d. You are fulfilling your mission as G-d’s messenger. You are helping put the world more into balance by equally distributing its resources.

As a side note, I’d like to throw in the fact that another word that stems from “tzedek” is “tzaddik” or a righteous man (“tzadeikes” for a righteous woman). How is being righteous also an act of justice? Because just as giving charity is justice because you are bringing balance to the world by giving people what is truly meant to be theirs, being a righteous person is justice because you are bringing balance to the world by acting out the role G-d originally intended for you. You are “functioning” the way you were designed to – and that’s one step closer to the world being fixed as a whole. You are being true to your inner G-dly spark. So to speak also, you are giving justice to G-d’s intention for mankind.

With all that said, may we all be grateful to G-d for all the gifts / charity He showers us with daily, and may we all be just to the world and our own selves by passing on the packages we are supposed to, and by acting righteously, just we were designed to.

Thank you to my friend Malki for discussing several of these ideas with me, and to this article from Chabad.org for helping me with some of my ideas.

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