In my 18 years with Yad Aharon & Michael, this unique organisation has not only enriched me by imparting to me some of life’s invaluable lessons, but it has given me a heightened appreciation of the all-encompassing nature, meaning and importance of tzedakah – that delicate, magnanimous and complex mitzvah unlike any other. Very few mitzvot require the investiture of one’s entire being, involving one’s total talents and efforts.
Although it is related to charity, the translation of tzedakah is broader than its definition. Charity suggests benevolence and generosity, an act of the powerful and wealthy for the benefit of the poor and needy. Tzedakah, on the other hand, is derived from the Hebrew language and means righteousness, fairness or justice. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous act; it is simply an act of justice, the performance of a duty of giving the poor their due (Judaism 101 1999). It is the right thing to do.
Charitable giving is not a holy money machine. The very nature of the mitzvah is giving for the sake of giving without hope of reward and that is what makes it good and holy. As Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk so succinctly put it: “I do not want followers who are righteous. Rather, I want followers who are so busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad, thereby attaining righteousness”. If today’s act of tzedakah is meant to train our hand to open up more readily the next time, performing the mitzvah properly must lead to a second charitable act. We all possess an inherent drive to maintain or better our standard of living through our daily toiling to earn money. When we set aside a portion of that money and appropriate it to tzedakah, we give up something in which we have invested our whole self for Hashem’s sake. That is an unbelievable feat, and that is what is accomplished in the performance of the mitzvah.
If Man was created in G-d’s image, treating the poor with anything other than compassion, love and respect is inconceivable to me, but it goes even further than that. Man reaches the most perfect resemblance to his Maker when he shares G-d’s responsibility to provide for those in need. Says the Holy One, blessed be He: “The sustenance of the poor man has been breached. You, the charitable man, must fill the breach for me”. This quote, from Tzedakah Treasury by Rabbi Avrohom Feuer, stirs up deep emotion and humility in me because it underpins the manner in which we, at Yad Aharon & Michael, strive to serve our clients. I am in awe of the fact that, in giving tzedakah, we lift up Almighty G-d Himself and, by inference, the poor are uplifted. Accepting tzedakah is undoubtedly one of the hardest and most courageous steps a person takes and making newcomers feel accepted and secure can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Over the years, I have found that by impressing upon reluctant clients who approach our organisation that they, as the beneficiaries in the equation of tzedakah, are as instrumental in its performance as our benefactors, their self-esteem is usually restored because they understand that tzedakah, although dispensed by chosen and privileged agents, is directly from the Hand of Hashem. By giving assistance with the hand and consolation with the mouth, embitterment and insensitivity have no place in the heart.
Undoubtedly, tzedakah is ingrained in the genes of the Jewish people. The question is: How to do it right? As custodians of our donors’ tzedakah, we at Yad Aharon & Michael are fully cognisant of the responsibility to dispense charity to the right people in the right way in the right amount. For this, we seek guidance from our Torah and inspiration from our Rabbis whose ahavas chesed is intrinsically bound in the privilege of performing Hashem’s holy work. Having learned from the Talmud (Baba Batra 9a) that “Tzedakah is equal to all the other commandments combined”, our community can be assured that we understand the enormity of our responsibility and commit to our mandate with the maximum levels of transparency, accountability and professionalism.