Tzedakah should be a habit

Posted on 27 September 2012 by admin

By Laura Seymour

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, there was an article in The Dallas Morning News’ business section on giving trends — rather timely as we spend our days thinking of tshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

Families in the most popular “Jewish ZIP codes” gave an average of about 4.1-6 percent of their incomes to charity. Not the highest, but not the lowest. It was, however, lower than recommended by Jewish law. What should this tell us as we look to the new year? Let the statistics be a gauge for us to look at our own giving as we plan for the coming year.

It is not for each of us to judge what others give or to make up for what is lacking. But as a Jewish educator I want to challenge you to think, plan and teach your children.

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah, Yossi Prager posted an interesting question on “Jewish Philanthropy, The Blog:” “Imagine you had $1,000 in personal funds to give directly to needy people. Would you give it to a single family to cover their grocery bills for five weeks or give $1 each to 1,000 people?”

Prager gives his personal response, but then gives the argument from a 12th century Jewish thinker: “Maimonides argues that it is best to give one dinar to 1,000 people rather than make one grand gift. Maimonides’ reasoning is that the grand gift may be effective in alleviating one person’s need in a significant way but will not transform the personality of the giver. By contrast, Maimonides says, the habit developed by 1,000 small, repeated gifts would transform the giver into a more generous person.”

Prager continues: “First, our character traits develop through small, consistent steps, not grand actions. Second, the purpose of Jewish charity law extends beyond alleviating suffering. We give not only to improve the lives of others but also to improve our own characters.”

Many years ago, a parent at the Aaron Family JCC preschool questioned why we have our children come up and put money in the tzedakah box. She said she felt that her son should wait until he has his own money and understands giving. I asked her if her son brushes his teeth or will he wait until he has permanent teeth? She looked at me aghast and told me he has been brushing for years — it’s important to get into the habit of brushing.

We laughed together, and she admitted that she got it — giving tzedakah is a habit. We want our children to get into the habit early. Giving helps others and ourselves.

Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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