”Tzedakah” is not just a pleasant gesture, but rather an obligation to do charity work. While normally someone refraining from charity acts would be considered selfish, in Judaism it is considered an injustice not to offer Tzedakah.
”Tzedakah” is often translated as ”charity”. However, the nature of the word is far from meaning simply ”charity”. The word ”Tzedakah” derives from the Hebrew word ”Tzedek”, which means justice, righteousness or honor. One of the most important pieces of advice offered by the Torah, in Deuteronomy 16:20 is for one to follow justice constantly.
A common manner for Jews to accomplish the “Tzedakah” is to give charity to the poor. Often, in Jewish houses can be found a box in which coins are collected for the poor. Regularly, people place coins in these boxes and then give them to the poor. This is a very common and even instinctive reaction for the Jews, made in order to express their gratitude to God, to ask Him for forgiveness or simply to ask Him something. According to the Jewish tradition, the spiritual benefit derived from the act of giving to the poor is very large and considerable.
The act of offering Tzedakah is considered to be one of the most important commandments of Judaism. However, tzedakah does not refer entirely to money. Giving time, knowledge, objects is a gift that God looks upon with kindness. Also, offering knowledge to someone in order to help the respective person achieve its independence is one of the highest forms of offering something.
According to the Torah, a tenth of someone’s income should be given for the Tzedakah. Should one offer less, he/she has still completed the act of giving, but not to the highest standards. Another important aspect of the Tzedakah is that even the poorest person shall offer Tzedakah. This comes from the fact that anyone can give something to someone who has less. As mentioned above, Tzedakah does not only refer to money, but to other spiritual gifts as well, so that even the poorest person can perform it.
One of the most familiar symbols of a Jewish community as well as a common element within a Jewish household is the Tzedakah box.
A common type of Tzedakah box is the blue and white Karen Kayemet LeYisrael box. Many used to keep them in their homes in order to be able to contribute to raising funds for the newly-created state of Israel. Nowadays, Tzedakah boxex come in different shapes and dimensions, can be made out of any type of fabric: wood, metal, paper or glass and are richly decorated. It is also common nowadays to offer Tzedakah boxes to children on the occasion of their bar mitzvahs/bat mitzvahs in order to help them begin accomplishing the Tzedakah on their own, even at an early age.
In addition to this, the attitude of the one giving the tzedakah is a key element in performing the task, as one needs to be in a pleasant disposition when giving. Thus, even if giving the Tzedakah is an obligation, it should be wholly embraced and perceived as a moral duty that should stem from one’s heart, rather than another task to be done.