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What is Tzedakah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Mitzvot » Charity | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. “Tzedakah” is charity—charity of money, charity of words, charity of right things. Actually, tzedakah is much more than “Charity.” Charity just means checks, cash or change, but “tzedakah” is so much more. “Tzedakah” literally means "righteousness." It means the right response for the situation. If you have a couple of coins for a beggar, that’s charity. But if you don’t, and you give him a smile and a boost instead... now, that’s tzedakah.

B. According to Maimonides, the rabbi/doctor of 12th-Century Egypt, there are eight levels of tzedakah:

1. Giving financial stability to someone who’s down and almost out: a loan, or a job, so that he doesn’t need to rely on others.

2. Giving where neither the donor nor the recipient know each other’s identity.

3. Giving where the donor knows who the recipient is, but the recipient doesn’t know who the donor is.

Tzedakah is an attitude of giving. Look for situations where you can give whatever is needed... because often, too often, giving is more than money
4. Giving where the donor doesn’t know who the recipient is, but the recipient knows who the donor is.

5. Giving before the poor guy says, “Please give me!”

6. Giving after the poor guy says, “Please give me!”

7. Giving less than needed... but with a pleasant, all-smiles attitude.

8. Giving begrudgingly or with a scowling attitude.

C. Tzedakah is an attitude of giving. Look for situations where you can give whatever is needed... because often, too often, giving is more than money.

How do I give tzedakah?

1. Well, now, we would start with your checkbook, or with that change in your pocket. See that fundraising letter for that Kids-with-Cancer something-or-other that came in the mail? Send ‘em a check—they could use it. See that guy on the sidewalk begging for handouts? He may not be mentally equipped for society right now, but until he gets some serious help, he needs to eat, just like you—dump a few coins in his cup.

2. More spiritual, very kind and wonderful giving of your resources

Use your cables to give a guy’s dead battery a jump. Use your connections to get a man a job. Listen with a sympathetic ear. Help an old lady across the street. Give directions to a lost tourist, or direction to a lost soul.

3. Very spiritual, ultra-kind, do-what’s-good giving of your self

Loan your friend a few thousand when she really, really needs it (don’t make a point of asking for it back—she won’t forget, believe me). Help a widow put her kids through school. That sort of totally amazing, angelic stuff.


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Posted by: Natie, Boynton Beach, FL on Mar 08, 2005

if you are helping your children because they cant pay their bills is that considered charity or sedakah

Editor's Comment

Certainly. In fact, needy relatives supercede all other poor people with regards to giving charity.


Posted by: Anonymous, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brasil on Mar 23, 2006

Is it true that when we give tzedakah, G-d will give it all back to us and much more during our lifetime?


Editor's Comment

In the words of the prophet Malachi (3:10): “Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says the L-rd of Hosts, [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it.”
"Tzedakah," commonly translated as charity, literally means righteousness, or the right thing to do. Giving to those in need is one of the most important of G-d's commandments.
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.