Charity Box

The tradition of Tzedakah (righteousness) is a fundamental part of Jewish living. There are many forms of righteous behavior, but giving charity is among the most basic. Charity is compulsory in Jewish tradition, because the poor need it. Charity is considered a befitting way to celebrate a simchah (happy occasion), recall a deceased loved one, and mark the passage of time (people often give charity around the time of various holy days). A pushke (charity box) can be found in most every Jewish home, and it is traditional to give children money each week just prior to Shabbat, to teach them the commandment of tzedakah. In addition, many synagogues have Tzedakah boxes, to enable people who come to worship, study, and celebrate, to fulfill the precept of righteousness. A tzedakah box can take any form, from a used coffee can to an artistic object. (As an aside, several years ago, when my daughter Rachel was 12, she and I visited a large craft fair in Baltimore. We passed the table of a Jewish artisan and my daughter pointed out a tzedakah box for sale. The price was $850. "What's wrong with this picture?" I asked her. "Nothing," she smiled at me, "because you're going to get a sermon out of this one." How right she was!)

Moses Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah ("Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor", chapter 10, sections 7-14) wrote that not all acts of charity are equivalent. There are better acts of charity and lesser acts of charity. In fact, he enumerated eight levels of Tzedakah, from highest to lowest:

  1. To assist a poor person by providing him/her with a gift or a loan or by accepting him/her into a business partnership or by helping him/her find employment - in a word, by enabling him/her to dispense with other people's aid.
  2. To give to those who need in such a manner that the giver does not know who the recipient is and the recipient does not know who gave the money.
  3. The giver knows who the recipient is, but the recipient does not know who the giver is.
  4. The recipient knows who gave the money but the giver does not know who receives the donation.
  5. The giver gives the money directly to the poor person.
  6. The giver gives money to the poor person only after been asked.
  7. The giver gives less than is appropriate, but gives it graciously.
  8. The giver gives, but reluctantly.

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