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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Right Thing to Do

“For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”—Genesis 18:19
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Charity begins at home,” meaning we should first take care of our family and those closest to us before we worry about others.
Well, in the Jewish tradition, charity begins in the kitchen — but has more far-reaching implications than just taking care of those at home. In a time-honored tradition, most observant Jewish homes have a charity box — or tzedakah box — in the kitchen, as a physical reminder of our obligation to give to others. Throughout the week, parents and children alike drop their coins in the box to help the less fortunate.
This custom of placing the charity box in such a prominent place in the home reinforces the Jewish concept of charity — that it should be practiced constantly and that it is more than just a good deed or act of generosity. It is the right thing to do.
You see, the Hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, has a different connotation from the typical meaning of charity. The word charity suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the needy and poor. But the Hebrew word for charity carries with it the idea of righteousness, justice, or fairness.
This very idea of charity can be traced back to Abraham’s time, when God tells Abraham that He has chosen him so that “he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just.” Other translations render that “doing righteousness and justice” — or tzedakah.
Giving to the poor in Judaism is an obligation, a duty that can’t be forsaken even by those in need themselves. According to Jewish law, we are required to give one-tenth of our income to the poor — a practice that many Christians also exercise by giving one-tenth of their income to the mission of the church.
Some Jewish sages have suggested that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments — one that is equal to all others. Indeed, this sentiment is similar to the teachings of the apostle Paul, who in writing to the church at Corinth, said, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”
(1 Corinthians 13:13, KJV).
Consider ways that you and your family can begin charity in your home — whether it’s in the kitchen, the family room, or wherever.
After all, it’s the right thing to do!

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