Sharing the Wealth
By James Burns
Parashat Re’eh is long – it is, in fact, the longest parashah in Deuteronomy – and it contains many different themes. The 126 verses address, amongst other things, the Shalosh Regalim, the laws of kashrut, false prophets, dealing with a blessing and a curse, and charity. It is the mitzvah of charity that I want to explore.
In Re’eh we learn about the tithing process: that a tenth of all produce is to be eaten in Jerusalem, or if that is not possible, then sold for money, and food should be purchased in Jerusalem and eaten there instead. In years three and six of the Shemitah (seven-year agricultural) cycle, the tithe is given to the poor instead.
In modern times, tithes are voluntary and are usually paid in monetary terms rather than in produce, but the giving of tithes is no less important.
Since we strive to teach our children the right way to give charity to others, it was encouraging that my daughter’s (modern orthodox) primary school recently held a parent and child learning session with Generation Sinai, using The Giving Game to discuss how to make decisions around giving to charity. The children were given 1,500 ‘tzedakah bucks’ to distribute after answering challenging moral and ethical questions about the best ways of giving charity. The questions included:
- Are charity and tzedakah the same thing?
- Is it better to give £100 to one charity or £1 to one hundred charities?
- Is volunteering your services considered tzedakah, and can it be deducted from the amount of money you have to give?
My daughter benefited from the game, the sometimes uncomfortable questions and lack of simple answers. It made her think more carefully about what we do as a family, and what goes on in the wider community.
Although learning how to give to charity is admirable, it is not just about giving money, and whilst the game focused on that, there are numerous ways to give. Giving time to worthy causes; offering our skills and knowledge to accomplish tasks or to advance a charity’s mission; ensuring our neighbours are warm and fed during the winter – all are worthy examples of giving of ourselves in a way which is arguably more important than the act of giving money.
Finding the balance between giving time and money is difficult, especially in a world that no longer obeys the boundaries of a working week, where mobile phones keep you connected at all times, and any additional demands for your time impact on the quality of family life. Our challenge is to be creative with how we spend both money and time, in order that we can both fulfil the obligation of tzedakah and teach our children the core Jewish value of gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness).