Tzedakah: Not Charity
Tzedakah isn’t charity, though we often translate it as such. Tzedakah means righteousness or justice, from the Hebrew root tzedek, tzadee-daled-kuf.
We learn from the Sages that God selects certain people to distribute His wealth. We understand that when we are in a position to financially — or otherwise — help someone, we are simply dispensing that which is God’s that God entrusted to us. Tzedakah includes all forms of giving, including money, time, knowledge, physical aid and even cheering someone up when he or she is depressed.
The Torah considers ensuring that the recipient’s dignity is preserved as a top priority when it comes to fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah. It is because of this that Maimonides, the 12th-century rabbi and scholar, included in his important work “The Mishnah Torah” that there are eight levels of giving, the highest being the one in which the recipient experiences the least amount of embarrassment or littleness.
In the coming weeks, the Baltimore Jewish Times will explore Maimonides’ eight levels of tzedakah in reverse order, from the least desirable form of giving to the best. In doing so, we keep in mind that tzedakah is cyclical; the gifts we give will be returned to us. How well we respond to someone else in need will determine how well we are responded to.