If however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need. (Deuteronomy 15:7–8)
This line is one of the first lessons we teach our children as we begin to teach them about Judaism. The need to help others, no, the requirement that we help others, is a central focus of what Judaism is all about. The commandment to help others appears so often in the Torah that the Talmud tell us (Bava Batra 9a) “Tzedakah (charity) outweighs all other mitzvot.”
So how can we make this a part of our family's regular activities? Here are some suggestions for making tzedakah a part of your regular routine:
- keep a tzedakah box in many places in your house: on top of the dryer for loose change, in the kitchen, on your dresser, on your kids' dressers...
- teach your kids to divide their allowance. My son has a piggy bank with separate slots for "spend" "save" "invest" and "donate" (we bought it from Amazon) -- we regularly talk about putting the money into the Tzedakah slot and what we can do with it.
- when you sort through clothes and toys, take your children with you to deliver them to Goodwill or another organization.
- suggest that your child's birthday party be a collection, asking for donations or items for others instead of gifts for the child
- collect every "request" that comes into your house and once a month (or at whatever interval works for you), sit down with your family and look at all of them to determine where your family's tzedakah money will go.
- create young philanthropists -- give your kids and/or grandkids a bank account or budget from which they can make their own gifts...discuss with them regularly what it means to make your tzedakah dollars "go far." Teach them about "matching gifts" and make arrangements to "match" your kids' gifts...or invite them to ask other family members to match their gifts.
- use tzedakah as a reward or incentive: offer to give money to the charity of your kids' choice in honor of an acheivement or milestone.
These and so many more ideas will help your family to make tzedakah (charity) and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) regular parts of your family's life. Through these actions we can truly fulfill our mission on earth: to make this world a better place.
How does your family engage in tzedakah? Leave a comment with your ideas.
(crossposted on rabbiphyllis.blogspot.com)