There is something strange and unexplained about Tzedakah – at least as far as I can tell and for which I haven’t found a Jewish source:
There is no prescribed Bracha (blessing) before performing the Mitzvah of Tzedakah.
So many things Jews do are preceded by a Bracha: HaMotzi, Kiddush, lighting Chanukkah candles, a Bris, hanging a Mezuzzah on a door, setting out on a journey, and so many more.
There are some that are recited after the act. There is Birkat Hamazon after a meal and I think particularly of four categories of people who have survived dangerous situations as listed in the Talmud: those on a sea journey, people who have gone through the desert, sick people who have recovered, and those who have been released from jail….To which we could add many more dangerous situations today. After these things, the person goes to synagogue and recites the Birkat HaGomel, thanking God for having taken care of him or her.
There are a few Mitzvahs for which there is no Bracha, like for honoring parents because it is an all-the time Mitzvah.
But for Tzedakah – I can only theorize – here are some possibilities:
1. With Tzedakah a person can’t afford to waste any time, even a moment because of extreme dire physical or psychological need….You just never know when someone is close to dying or to despair. Just think of rescue teams screaming down the road, running red lights, emergency room medical teams making life-and-death decisions. Some Tikkun Olam has to be done that quickly, and because sometimes we have to react and act so fast, we have to train ourselves to be ready to react and act so fast always. Even if the Mitzvah-at-hand is not so pressing.
2. Some have said if you make the Bracha and the other person refuses to take the Tzedakah — as sometimes happens — it will have become what is known as a Bracha Levatalah, a wasted Bracha, and usage of God’s name unnecessarily, something about which our tradition is very careful to avoid.
3. This act is so direct human being to human being, no interruption should be tolerated so the Tzedakah giver can focus 100% on the fact he or she is facing another human being – it serves as a connector between us and reminds us of our shared commonality.
4. Another is that the act exudes a sense of God’s Intimate Presence in the World – there is something so exquisite, so awesome, that there is no real need to make a Bracha to become aware of God’s Presence. This one, I think is related to the fact that we are made in the image of God, and we are acting in a very God-like manner when we do this kind of good for others. Doing Tzedakah in and of itself reminds us of why we are here on this earth and were given the gift of life – to do Mitzvahs.
That is why the word “selfless” is not a good Mitzvah-word in English. When we do Tzedakah and other Mitzvahs, we do not lose our Self – very much to the contrary, we define, we gain a truer sense of who we really are – Mitzvah people, which, by the way is the meaning of Bar and Bat Mitzvah – grammatically it means a Mitzvah-Man or Mitzvah-Woman.
All of these are nice guesses, and some are very appealing, but I am still wondering why in the 20 volumes of my huge Talmud, and 24 volumes of Maimonides with commentary and 10 even huger volumes of the Shulchan Aruch Code of Jewish Law there is nothing formally prescribed by our tradition for making a Bracha before doing the act of Tzedakah.
Nevertheless, as you can see from my list, it is most worthwhile to think about it because it leads to some very important thinking about Life, Judaism, about God and about ourselves.
And while we haven’t cracked the mystery of no Bracha for doing Tzedakah leaving us somewhat unsettled, an old friend of mine of nearly half a century did offer this – I think meaningful – insight:
There should be a Bracha after you have done the act of Tzedakah. In that bracha we would thank God for the power, resources, time, health, inclination, motivation, and inspiration to do it and to live up fully to ourselves, to fulfill the meaning of being human in our own lives.
It would be taking note – even with the simplest and smallest act of Tzedakah – not the millions of dollars you read about in the newspapers or on the Web – of how grand — no — truly awesome — it is to be human and to be allowed the privilege and power to make such a
difference in the lives of others.