We are so familiar with the term tzedakah, often understood as charity but literally meaning righteousness. We know that a tzaddik is a righteous person and tzeddek is righteous. But what does this word righteousness truly mean? I think perhaps we best understand righteousness by sharing examples of tzedakah and people who are tzaddikim.
So I helped her pay her bills from my discretionary fund, and I provided her with food from our food pantry and grocery cards to help with perishables. She thanked me profusely, with tears in her eyes. I didn’t see her for many months. Then one day, she appeared at my office door with several of her children, their arms carrying full grocery bags. She handed me a check for my discretionary fund as well, more than reimbursing me for the money she had borrowed when she really needed it. Life was still not easy for them, but as soon as she was able to spare it, she wanted to pay me back, AND restock our pantry. She said there were surely people who needed it more than she did now, and she wanted to be sure we had the funds and food to help those truly in need. And she wanted to teach her children the importance of helping others, even when life is not so easy.
It took me some time to comprehend the level of this woman’s righteousness. It wasn’t how much she gave back, but that she so seriously understood the idea that there often are people in a worse situation than one’s self, and it is always incumbent upon us to do what we can to make the world slightly better, to help someone even a little, especially when they are most in need.
The tzaddikim of old acted not because others were watching, nor because they were receiving a reward for their actions, but rather because they understood the concept of tzeddakah as reaching for a higher plane.
May we be influenced by the righteous acts around us.
May this New Year help us to reach higher,
So our acts will be considered righteous
And our souls will reach a higher plane.
Now let the sound of the shofar be heard;
And let our souls be awakened!
Rabbi Debbie Bravo
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