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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘tzedakah’

Shalva Challenge: Josh Strahl Raises The Tzedakah Bar To The Extreme

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

How far would one person be willing to go to raise vital funds for a worthy charitable cause? For Joshua Strahl, surviving a ferocious storm in Iceland or climbing the foreboding Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, in order to assist special needs children at Shalva in Jerusalem is actually an “adrenaline rush.”

Strahl, a Brooklyn native, who made aliyah to Beit Shemesh in 1996, could actually be construed as a real-life contestant on “Survivor.” He is an avid lover of extreme sports who has used his passion to push his body and soul to the max for personal and charitable goals, even after surviving open-heart surgery.

“I’ve always been drawn to extreme sports and have always wanted to go to Iceland, ever since I had to write a paper for my Master’s Degree at NYU on international trade, where I chose Iceland,” Strahl fondly recalled. “Even before I made aliyah, I had done about 50 skydives and planned on going to Iceland one day. That country always fascinated me. But after I made aliyah, I had no more time to indulge in skydiving or other extreme sports because I had to earn a living for my family.”

Strahl dabbled in both the hi-tech and plumbing industries. Along the way, he began suffering from various health problems, culminating in open-heart surgery six years ago. Rather than getting depressed and feeling sorry for himself, Strahl decided to whip himself back into shape by running. “I started to do half-marathons in Beit Shemesh and graduated to other marathons in Jerusalem and Tiberias,” he said.

Strahl ascends Mt. Hermon

Strahl ascends Mt. Hermon

During a particularly enjoyable marathon run through Jerusalem, Strahl noticed a sign about raising funds for Shalva by engaging in challenging treks, including adventures in Iceland.

“Wow, that was like the perfect storm for me because I am extremely motivated to do stuff for tzedakah,” Strahl admitted. Raising money for Shalva had extra meaning for him because one of his young cousins, a special needs child, was enrolled in one of its educational programs.

Strahl said, “Shalva is a wonderful organization that has opened its doors to thousands of special needs children and puts them within a warm and loving environment. It is an incredible place where the staff is so kind, where both the children and their parents benefit from their services every single day. So, when I heard that they were going to raise funds by doing various treks, like cycling in Iceland and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I had had no problem training for and participating in these events. I’d deal with the achy feet and getting to the finish line, as long as people would donate to the cause.”

Shalva’s “Fire & Ice Challenge” in Iceland, which took place between July 4-15, consisted of trekking 37 miles across one of the world’s most active volcanic regions and then bicycling 155 miles through Iceland’s remote terrain.

The calendar said July, but this was Iceland.

“There were times when my legs were telling me ‘What the heck are you doing?’ because the terrain is so hard,” Strahl recalled. “The last few days were really challenging because you were biking into head winds of 30mph and the weather started to get really cold and snowy. It was brutal. But even when my legs were burning and my face was freezing up, I kept going because I was thinking about my cousin and the other kids at Shalva. This was also my once-in-a-lifetime Iceland thrill, where I got out and did my physical challenges on a glacier. All of these things, especially raising money for needy kids, add value to the challenge and even goes beyond my health issues.”

That’s not to say Strahl also didn’t experience a spiritual epiphany or two during a Shabbat pit-stop with other “Fire & Ice” participants. “We spent an incredible Shabbat together, where we were able to daven, eat delicious vegetarian food and even enjoy some good whiskey. It was something that I’ll never forget because it was fun and a way to unwind after enduring the physical challenges,” he kvelled.

Surviving Iceland whetted Strahl’s appetite to conquer Kilimanjaro in February 2017. During August and September, Strahl began a new and intensive training regimen by climbing up and down Mt. Hermon, Israel’s northernmost point, several times a day! The Israeli side of the impressive mountain rises to about 7,300 feet, far below Mt. Kilimanjaro’s dormant volcano peak of over 16,000 feet from its base.

“Mt. Hermon isn’t the toughest mountain to climb, and Mt. Kilimanjaro is no walk in the park. Which is why I wanted to see what my body would feel like after going up and down Mt. Hermon five times in one day. My motivation is to climb that mountain and raise $20,000 for Shalva’s kids.”

Yes, Strahl and his doctors closely monitor his health. And while there are always concerns lurking in the background, the word “quit” isn’t in Strahl’s dictionary, especially when Mt. Kilimanjaro beckons to be conquered.

For more information about how you can become a part of Joshua Strahl’s Shalva tzedakah challenge, you can surf his special landing page at:  climb4shalva.org/profile.php?id=11.

Shlomo Ben-Yissachar

Lost Tzedakah

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

For many years Mr. Jacobs served as gabbai tzedakah. In addition to a general tzedakah fund that he managed, he also collected for the local yeshiva and Hatzalah. Every day he would place three separate pushkas in shul. At the end of each month, he would count the money and deposit it in the designated accounts.

One day, after counting the donations, Mr. Jacobs put the money in his coat pocket and headed to the bank. But when he reached the bank, he put his hand in his pocket and realized the money was gone.

“It must have fallen out along the way,” he thought. Mr. Jacobs retraced his steps but could not find the money. He panicked. There was over $1,000 of general tzedakah; old Mr. Katz alone had contributed two hundred in honor of his father’s yahrzeit. There was almost $400 for the local yeshiva, and $300 for Hatzalah.

Mr. Jacobs came home with a glum look. “What happened?” His wife asked. “You look terrible!”

Mr. Jacobs related what had happened. “I always put the money in my attaché case,” he added, “but I didn’t have it today so I stuffed it in my coat pocket. It’s $1,700 down the drain.”

Mrs. Jacobs thought for a moment. “Are you held accountable for the money?” she asked. “It’s going to be very hard for us to cover such a sum.”

“I was wondering the same,” answered Mr. Jacobs. “I was careless. On the other hand, I do this as a volunteer; I don’t get anything for being gabbai. Furthermore, nobody’s keeping track of the money except for Mr. Katz; he asks me every day if I distributed it already.”

“But you know that you lost the money,” retorted his wife, “and God knows!”

“I was just wondering what the halacha is,” apologized Mr. Jacobs. “I’d like to discuss the issue with Rabbi Dayan.”

When Rabbi Dayan heard the story, he said: “You must pay the money that was collected for specific causes, namely the yeshiva and Hatzalah. On the other hand, nobody can claim the unspecified tzedakah from you, not even Mr. Katz, but according to some you have a chiyuv b’dinei shamayim, a halachic obligation toward G­od, to make good to the poor.”

Rabbi Dayan then explained: “A gabbai tzedakah is responsible for negligence the same as any other person who is entrusted with money. If he is paid for his services, he would be accountable even for theft. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch [C.M. 301:6] holds that one who was negligent with unspecified tzedakah is ‘exempt,’ since nobody can claim the money from him. The donors cannot claim the money, since they never expected the gabbai to return it to them, but rather to distribute it to the poor. Each individual poor person also has no claim, since the gabbai can choose not to give the charity to him, but to some other needy person. However, if the money was earmarked for specific people or organizations, they have a definite claim to the money, and the gabbai is fully accountable to them if he was negligent.”

“And what did you mean by a chiyuv b’dinei shamayim about the unspecified tzedakah?” asked Mr. Jacobs.

Rabbi Dayan continued: “The Chavos Yair explains that even when the money is not earmarked for anyone specific, the gabbai is only ‘exempt’ in the sense that neither the donor nor an individual poor person can demand the money from him. However, the gabbai has a halachic obligation, albeit not enforceable by beis din, to give the money to the poor. His commitment to handle their money is no less a commitment than one made by a person who pledges to them [Pischei Teshuvah 301:6].” Maharam Shick, though, exempts even latzeis y’dei shamayaim if the gabbai did not actively damage” [C.M. 14].

Rabbi Meir Orlian

Two Jewish Boys Help Blind Arab Man #OnlyInIsrael [video]

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Yesterday, two 15-year-old Jewish, kipa-wearing, boys were walking in Jerusalem when they heard a blind Arab man say he didn’t have enough money to buy his medicine.

The two took the blind man and sat him down on a bench with them and they began to play their guitars.

When they collected the 70 shekels the Arab man needed, one of the Jewish boys went to the pharmacy and bought the medicine for the man.

Afterwards, the man asked the boys if they could continue to play some more songs for him, which they did.

Source: The Two Shollies – Shtuyot

Video of the Day

Israelis Gear up for ‘GivingTuesday’ in the Jewish State

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

As Chanukah approaches, heads of low-income families are feeling that familiar sinking sensation as their children begin to describe the kinds of things they hope to receive as gifts for the upcoming holiday — things they know they won’t be able to afford to buy them.

Sadly, there are thousands of Jews who dread the holidays: people who have lost loved ones, people with limited finances and too many obligations to fulfill, and others who simply cannot decide between holiday foods, decorations or gifts. Sometimes there just isn’t enough to buy all three and even a child who understands that reality suffers from it.

Some groups try to help by distributing gifts and holiday foods in abundance — but such organizations also need the resources with which to purchase those items.  This is only one reason for the IsraelGives campaign.

The organizers of IsraelGives say they hope to shatter the country’s one-day record for online donations this Tuesday (Dec. 1).

The initiative is part of GivingTuesday, an event launched in 2012 as a “social alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.”

The global initiative itself today involves 12 countries promoting charitable giving on the first Tuesday that follows the two most commercial days of the shopping year.

Last year GivingTuesday raised a record $46 million globally, a 63 percent hike from the previous year. The 2014 GivingTuesday in Israel also did well, raising more than NIS 1 million for Israeli causes in a single day.

The main website for giving in the Jewish State since 2009 is IsraelGives.

“As a global movement for giving, GivingTuesday is powered by people who want to give back to their communities. In Israel, where giving is part and parcel of our culture and values, there’s no telling how much we can raise for our homegrown non-profit organizations, said Yonatan Ben-Dor, CEO of IsraelGives, the main facilitator of charitable giving to Israel, and official Israeli coordinator of GivingTuesday.

Over the last 6 years, we have helped to transform the culture of public giving in Israel. Instead of relying solely on donors from abroad, Israelis have stepped up to take care of their own,” Ben-Dor said. “Our small social business is proud to be sending over NIS 40 million this year to Israeli non-profit organizations, more than almost any company in Israel.”

Hana Levi Julian

Pursuing Justice

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Tzedek (justice) is a key word in the book of Devarim – most famously in the following verse toward the beginning of this week’s parshah: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, so that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you” (16:20).

The distribution of the word tzedek and its derivate, tzedakah, in the Five Books of Moses is anything but random. It is overwhelmingly concentrated on the first and last books – Genesis (where it appears 16 times) and Deuteronomy (18 times). In Exodus it occurs only four times, and in Leviticus five. All but one of these are concentrated in two chapters: Exodus 23 (where three of the four occurrences are in two verses, 23:7-8), and Leviticus 19 (where all five incidences are in chapter 19). In Numbers, the word does not appear at all.

This distribution is one of many indications that the Chumash is constructed as a chiasmus, a literary unit of the form ABCBA. Here’s the structure:


A: Genesis – the pre-history of Israel (the distant past). B: Exodus – the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai. C: Leviticus – the code of holiness. B: Numbers – the journey from Mount Sinai to the banks of the Jordan. A: Deuteronomy – the post-history of Israel (the distant future).


The leitmotif of tzedek/tzedakah appears at the key points of this structure – the two outer books of Genesis and Deuteronomy, and the central chapter of the work as a whole, Leviticus 19. Clearly the word is a dominant theme of the Mosaic books as a whole.

What does it mean? Tzedek/tzedakah is almost impossible to translate, because of its many shadings of meaning: justice, charity, righteousness, integrity, equity, fairness, and innocence. It certainly means more than strictly legal justice, for which the Bible uses words like mishpat and din. One example illustrates the point: “If a man is poor, you may not go to sleep holding his security. Return it to him at sundown, so that he will be able to sleep in his garment and bless you. To you it will be reckoned as tzedakah before the Lord your G-d” (Deuteronomy 24:12-13).

Tzedakah cannot mean legal justice in this verse. It speaks of a situation in which a poor person has only a single cloak or covering, which he has handed over to the lender as security against a loan. The lender has a legal right to keep the cloak until the loan has been repaid. However, acting on the basis of this right is simply not the right thing to do. It ignores the human situation of the poor person, who has nothing else with which to keep warm on a cold night. The point becomes even clearer when we examine the parallel passage in Exodus 22, which states:

“If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 22:25-26).

The same situation that in Deuteronomy is described as tzedakah is termed in Exodus as compassion or grace (chanun). The late Aryeh Kaplan translated tzedakah in Deuteronomy 24 as “charitable merit.” It is best rendered as “the right and decent thing to do” or “justice tempered by compassion.”

In Judaism, tzedek, as opposed to mishpat, must be tempered by compassion. Hence the terrible, tragic irony of Portia’s speech in “The Merchant of Venice”:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to G-d himself; And earthly power doth then show likest G-d’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much To mitigate the justice of thy plea…


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

When Giving Charity Enables Bad Habits

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A few weeks ago, I received a telephone call from a well-meaning young woman. She was making cold calls from a list of members of the local community to ask for donations for a poor family. “The parents have no money. Both of them are working, but they can’t make ends meet. Right now, they and their five children are living in a very small rented apartment with no beds and debts that are impossible to pay,” she told me.

But while I felt very sorry for this family, I wondered if the answer was to simply raise money and hand them a check. (Before you read any further, don’t think I am suggesting that charity is a bad idea. Quite the opposite! I encourage everyone to try to give 20% of their income to charity. See this great example of kids giving charity.)

As I don’t know the particular circumstances of this individual family, I can’t say too much about their specific situation. However, many times I’ve noticed how families enter the cycle of debt because they have never been taught how to use their money properly. Even if both parents are working, they can drown in debts that may have started right from the beginning of their life together. Perhaps when they first got married, they were so sure of their new independence and life together that they didn’t stop to think how much money they were spending. Right at the beginning, they wanted a new dining room set, or they decided that as a young couple they should eat out at restaurants twice a week. They wanted to start out with an easy lifestyle. Perhaps they wanted to live higher than their parents who had nothing, or maybe they didn’t want to face a drop in the high standards that they enjoyed while living at home during their single years until they could make enough money to be able to maintain that kind of lifestyle themselves.

There could be so many reasons, but the underlying cause of the problems of many families is insufficient financial education and learned negative spending habits. If you grow up in a home where there is no concept of saving, and borrowing from one loan fund to pay off enough is considered as standard financial behavior, it’s very likely that you will end up inheriting the same bad fiscal habits unless you make an effort to learn differently.

The greatest gift that you can give to someone who needs your financial assistance because they are overwhelmed with debts is to encourage them to help themselves. While your check can pay off their current debt, it will only act as a Band-Aid, keeping them out of trouble until the next time. But if you can encourage them to look for a better-paid job, take a course on budgeting and money management, and to open a savings plan at the bank, you are giving them something that is a lot more valuable than any money.

Of course, charity doesn’t only mean giving to others. Sometimes, you need to be the recipient of your own tzedakah because the bottom line is that you are the only person who can really help yourself. So if you want to know more about planning for retirement, saving, and running your personal finances more effectively, start by reading self-help articles, attending budgeting courses, and adopting better monetary habits.

Doug Goldstein, CFP®

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/goldstein-on-gelt/when-giving-charity-enables-bad-habits/2013/01/17/

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