The Tabernacle Times
February 2018 ......................... Shevat - Adar 5778 ......................... Volume 1 Issue 2


Angela Kunkel
Angela Kunkel
  The Bible repeatedly stresses the obligation to aid those in need, however it never designates a term for this requirement. Rabbi’s have adopted the word “tzedakah” to apply to charity, primarily of giving gifts to the poor. In Jewish thought and tradition, material support for those in need is not a matter of “charity”– a term that implies generosity beyond what may be expected – but a requirement. Tzedakah literally means “righteousness” or “justice”. As you can expect, here too, Jewish tradition makes practical demands and specific expectations. During the Sabbatical year, there was to be no harvesting. Whatever grew from the land was to be considered “ownerless”. The owner, the servants, the strangers, the poor, and even the animals had equal rights to the produce (Leviticus 25:6-7). The needy among the people could eat any of it (Exodus 23:11). Likewise, all outstanding debts were canceled at the end of the sixth year of the seven year cycle among fellow Jews.

“Charity” has been considered a divine attribute, since “HaShem upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing”
(Deuteronomy 10:18). It is taught that the world was built upon kindness. Tzedakah goes one step beyond charity. “Justice” or “righteousness” tells us that sharing what we have with others isn’t something special, it is the fair and honest thing to do. Some of the Sages teach that practicing

In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 20 we read, “Justice (tzedek), justice (tzedek) you must pursue, so that you may live and possess the land that Adonai your G-d is giving you.” Moses is preparing the Children of Israel to enter into the promised land. He gives clear instruction about pursuing righteousness through righteousness. If you follow the “law of firsts” in studying true meaning of words in the scripture, you find “tzedek” or “justice” is first used in Leviticus 19:15 and reads, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” Tzedakah is an act of righteousness that comes from our duty to help others in need. It is “just” and “fair”, plainly it is the right thing to do.

The Torah commands the Children of Israel to leave some of the produce of the fields and vineyards for the poor. When reaping the harvest, the farmer was commanded to leave a corner (pe’ah) of the field (Leviticus 19:9). Similarly, the farmer was required to leave the “gleanings”, the single ears of corn that fell to the ground at the time of reaping. These were to be left for the poor or needy to come and collect. This same principle applied to the forgotten sheaf of grain in the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19) and to the single grapes that fell in the vineyard (Leviticus 19:10). The Rabbis took this seriously, Rashi states, “He who leaves the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and the pe’ah for the poor in due manner is regarded as though he had built the Temple and offered his sacrifices therein.”

A special tithe for the poor was due in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle (Deuteronomy 14:28). This tithe was to be the equivalent of the “second tithe” that the owner was required to separate from his harvested crop the first, second, fourth, and fifth years and bring to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14:22).

The concept of tithing, however, dates back to a much earlier time. After rescuing Lot and defeating the alliance of five cities, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of war (Genesis 14:20). In addition, while fleeing from his brother and after the dream of the angels ascending and descending on a ladder from Earth to Heaven, Jacob vowed that if HaShem would protect him and permit him to return safely to his father’s house, “the L~rd shall be my G~d ... and I will set aside a tithe for You”
(Genesis 28:21-22).
            (Continued at top of next column)
  tzedakah is among the highest of all the commandments, along with repentance and prayer. Indeed, tzedakah is declared to be life giving. “In the path of tzedakah (righteousness) there is life” (Proverbs 12:28). Tzedakah is not limited to gifts of money. Sharing time, expertise, or even a kind smile are all forms of charity.

Happy Hanukkah

The greatest act of tzedakah was demonstrated by our Messiah Yeshua. He Himself was the “gift”. The unblemished sacrificial offering upon the tree at Moriah to save the world from the wrath of G~d. By means of Yeshua’s death, those who trust in Him are also justified as tzaddikim, since “the tzaddik (righteous man) shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galations 3:11). Yeshua, the Righteous One, is gracious and giving to all who call upon Him.

No matter with how much you were blessed, you can always share with others. Tzedakah generates blessings that benefit the giver as much as (or even more than) the receiver. As the holiday of Purim approaches, I am reminded of the requirement to give charity to at least two people in need. The custom is to give to anyone who asks and to seek out people who need help. Could this be a reminder for us to do a little more caring? Is tzedakah a gesture that helps us move from selfishness to selflessness? The Holy One provides us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, the bodies that function and carry us around our lives. From that point of view there is nothing we can do that makes us more like G~d than opening our lives a bit more to those around us.

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