One of the highlights of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the prayer “Unetaneh Tokef.” The refrain of this Piyut (liturgical poem) is “It is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.” After reciting the ways one can die and one can live (always end on a positive note!) the congregation recites in unison “But teshuva (repentance) tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity) avert the evil decree!”
One could ask, “Can we bribe Hashem and pay for our absolution?” Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so easy? Alas, we know that Judaism doesn’t hold that one can bribe Hashem.
I believe that the Paytan (liturgical poet) is saying that if we sincerely turn back to Hashem and His Torah, Hashem may give us a second chance. Hashem, like a parent, only wants what is best for us and wants us to be the best we can be. So, if we decide to take the phrase of “teshuva, tefillah and tzedakah” seriously and set ourselves on a new course of improvement, we may avert the evil decree that is presently weighing in the balance.
Tzedakah, charity, usually suggests dollars. However, money is only one element of tzedakah. The word’s root meaning is “righteousness.” When one gives tzedakah, one is acting in a righteous manner. One is sharing the bounty that Hashem has given you, and is giving, not because of one’s generosity, but rather because it is a mitzvah (commandment) to give tzedakah. That’s why the Torah can command a person to give 10% of one’s net earnings for tzedakah. One’s good feeling is a bonus feature of the mitzvah.
Maimonides lists 8 levels of tzedakah (Level 1 being the best method):
- Giving an interest-free loan, or grant to, forming a partnership with, or finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer needing to make ends meet by having to rely upon others.
- Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person or public fund that is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
- Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
- Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
- Giving before being asked.
- Giving after being asked.
- Giving willingly, but inadequately.
- Giving unwillingly
Tzedakah also refers to volunteering to help others, may it be to give a ride, visit a sick person, shovel a driveway for someone who is unable, etc. It is a way of connecting to others and letting others know that they are not alone.
JFS is all about connecting with others. Whether it be through text, emails, phone calls, or in-person visits we endeavor to connect with people. We offer rides to seniors who want to go shopping, a doctor’s appointment, a Federation event, etc.-thus the need for volunteers :)
Of course, these programs require funding which is why we are presently having our Rosh Hashanah appeal. Our goal is $5000. Baruch Hashem, we have a matching donor (1:1) up to $2500. G-d willing, we will meet our goal and thus ensure that these important services continue.
On behalf of JFS, I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Jewish Family Services Director