Righteousness, not Charity

Most or many of the mitzvot associated with the Temple or Tabernacle service and those commands applicable especially in the land of Israel have to do with giving:

  • Sacrifices to Hashem
  • Bikurrim, or the first produce to the Kohen, Leviim, the sojourner who is among us, and the poor
  • Leaving all the produce from the seventh year for all to consume
  • Inviting the poor and the estranged to participate in the holiday festivities
  • Leaving portions of the crop unharvested so the poor and stranger can gather for free

This is the basis of our culture. It is what separates us from much of the world. While the caring part of the world concerns itself with “giving back,” the concept of “paying it forward” is Jewish in nature. In fact, our tradition tells us that these “gifts” are not ours to possess. I am not implying that we do not believe in personal property, instead, I am saying that what we gain is not ours until we have returned a portion of it to Hashem for His use. Or as one rabbi said in his commentary, “A portion of it is given to us in safekeeping for the benefit of others.” The main difference I see is this: one person calls the act as charity while another calls it tzedakah, which is translated as righteousness. Since we have earned this produce or money through the sweat of our brow, this means that Hashem permits us to own it and use it for our personal needs and wants. But the first portion is given to us as a keep-safe to benefit others, and releasing it for Hashem’s use becomes an act of righteousness, not an act of charity.

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