Generous tzedakah key to transforming our community
Can you imagine our South African Jewish community having everything it needs?
A community where all parents can afford school fees? Where everyone has access to the best medical care? Where no-one is living in poverty or unable to meet basic needs? Where our communal bodies – our shuls and schools, our welfare institutions, our security and other organisations – have the funds they need to fulfil and extend their vital mandates? Can you imagine a thriving South African Jewish community that has all of the financial resources it needs to be strong, robust, and vibrant?
We don’t need to imagine it. It’s in our hands to create this bright future for our community. One single mitzvah holds the key – tzedakah.
At first glance, tzedakah may not seem all that extraordinary. It’s a mitzvah we know well and subscribe to. We all recognise its importance and desirability. It’s even something most of us already do, to a certain extent. And yet, when done right, tzedakah can be completely transformative.
What’s the “right way” to give tzedakah? What exactly makes this mitzvah so revolutionary? The idea that, according to our Torah sources, we’re required to give at least 10% of our earnings to tzedakah.
Of course, there are exceptions. The halacha guides us on issues of affordability, with the very wealthy being able to give even more than 20% and those unable to give 10% giving what they can afford, within the halachic guidelines assessing what that means for each individual. But everyone, irrespective of their means, is included in this great mitzvah. Even those who rely on tzedakah should give a nominal amount. We can all be givers.
But the standard measure of giving for most people is 10%. The divine genius of this halacha – of all halacha – is to translate vague, well-meaning values like generosity into real, tangible, measurable action. The idea of 10% is so simple, so clear, and so revolutionary.
It gives us total clarity on what we need to do. It measures the value of giving proportionately. Rather than raw rands and cents, it’s about the percentage relative to each individual. By proactively separating a fixed percentage every year, we remind ourselves that the money we give didn’t belong to us in the first place – that we are simply G-d’s trustees of the 10% we are mandated to use to help the needy and support worthy causes for the betterment of society.
This idea of dedicating 10% of our earnings to tzedakah, has been carried out meticulously by generations of Jews. It’s a standard we have stood by throughout the ages, through exile and dispersion, across continents, during good times and bad.
And it holds the key no less for us here, today. I have no doubt that if we each gave our 10%, we would unleash a wave of unprecedented growth and energy in our community. No-one would go without, and all our organisations would have what they needed to thrive.
In recent times, I’ve seen this in action, via a series of remarkable crowd-funded tzedakah campaigns. Shuls and schools and other communal organisations, having set themselves sizeable targets, have met – and often exceeded – those targets each time.
Contributions big and small have flooded in from people directly involved and those simply eager to support a worthy cause. Call centres have buzzed with enthusiastic volunteers. It’s been inspiring to watch it all unfold; to witness such open-hearted generosity.
And each of these organisations has harnessed that generosity to unleash tremendous growth – rolling out new programmes; expanding existing ones; upgrading services and facilities; attracting more people; and doing more good.
They’ve shown us that tzedakah is transformative. As a community, instead of talking about donor fatigue, we need to think about how we can increase our giving. There’s so much goodwill, generosity, and abundant resources. There are donors big and small. We need to tap into it. So much can be achieved in our community if we have the funding.
The transformative power of giving is a subject close to my heart. It was a key message in my address at last month’s annual rabbinical conference, and is the theme of my 5784 New Year message to the community.
Now, as the new year begins, is the time to dedicate ourselves to the mitzvah of tzedakah. Let 5784 be the year we start a tzedakah revolution.
In this merit, may Hashem inscribe and seal us all for a year of blessing and abundance.
- The chief rabbi’s New Year message, “Let’s start a revolution – how tzedakah can change the world”, will be available at your shul or school, or to download at chiefrabbi.co.za.