“Tzedaka (charity) and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the commandments of the Torah” – Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah 1:1.
The act of charity is held in such high esteem by the Jewish people, that no one is exempt from this act: not even a poor beggar in rags. No one is allowed to give beyond his means, but each must give according to his ability – and I think it speaks in wonders about us as a people.
The guidelines for Jewish giving say when, how, and what to give to those in need. It’s right there in Deuteronomy 26:12, where it says that each person should give 10% of his earnings to the needy every third year, and in Leviticus 19:9-10, where it says that another percentage of annual income should be donated to the poor. During Temple times, every Jew paid a tithe to support the priests and their assistants.
Eight Ascending Levels
Maimonides devoted a full ten chapters of his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, to the ins and outs of charity. Here, the great rabbinic scholar and doctor speaks of 8 ascending levels of charity with the highest level found in helping someone attain the means to self-support.
The power of tzedaka is so great that along with sincere repentance and prayer, one can avert an evil decree by giving charity—even to the point of staving off a heavenly death sentence. There is seemingly no end to the ways that one can give charity, from supporting the synagogue to supporting the poor, from taking on the support of an elderly parent, to donating a car to Kars For Kids which underwrites educational initiatives for children. Charity comes with such immense spiritual benefits that the donor gets more out of the donation than the recipient.
The Hebrew word for charity “tzedaka” and the Hebrew word for righteousness “tzedek” differ by a single Hebrew letter, “heh,” which symbolizes the name of God. Jewish mystics divine from this that giving charity is to be considered a partnership between God and the righteous. In one sense, giving charity is an affirmation of having been blessed with material goods by God. Giving to others is therefore acting in the image of God; a godly act.
I proudly established the Ronn Torossian Family Foundation a few years ago and firmly believe that grounded in my success is that I give charity. It’s a requirement and something I take seriously.
Greater Than Sacrifice
“Greater is tzedakah than all the sacrifices” – Talmud, Sukkah 49b.
“If only the people who lived in the generation of the Flood and the people of Sodom had given tzedakah, they would not have perished” – Midrash Zutta, Song of Songs 1.
“Great is tzedakah, for since the day that the world was created until this day the world stands upon tzedakah” – Midrash Tanna d’Vei Eliyahu Zutta 1.