Giving with the hand, heart and mind

Over the last few weeks, three tzedakah moments have made me think about three tzedakah habits.

The first moment took place in December when our daughter, along with 250,000 PJ Library subscribers across North America, received a little blue tin tzedakah box.  While at first she insisted on putting chocolate Chanukah gelt through the little slot, each Friday night since receiving the box, she’s put a couple of coins into the box, delighting in the clink as they drop. 

The weekly ritual has become an important part of developing a habit of hand.  For our daughter, tzedakah is now a regular practice and part of her weekly routine.  This regularity and structure of giving is a lesson I could learn for my own giving.  I too should learn to give to charity as a regular practice, rather than waiting for a friend to run a marathon or a campaign to ask for a donation.  Putting the coins in the tin box is also a tactile task. She feels the coins, reaches up onto the sideboard and stretches for the tin.  The physical task is an important part of her habit of the hand.

In giving tzedakah, we must develop a habit of the hand.  One that is both regular and physical.

The second moment took place five years ago, but was recently jogged in my memory by an anniversary.  On January 12, 2010 I was travelling in a rickety van down a gravel road on the Yucatan Peninsula with a group of rabbinical students.  We were spending a week volunteering in an impoverished Mexican community, helping build a workshop for local craftspeople.  On the radio we heard news of the earthquake in Haiti.  Over the next few months efforts to send relief supplies and aid to Haiti were mounted in communities across North America. 

For me, the experience of being immersed in a developing community – meeting the people face to face, living in their homes, and understanding their lives – developed a tzedakah habbit of the heart.  It grew an urgency of tzedekah that was driven by passion and emotion, love and empathy.  My experience in Mexico extended through the relief efforts in Haiti and while images of both continue to tug at my heart, in the intervening years they have begun to dim.

In giving we must develop a habit of the heart.  A sense of purpose and reason, passion and compassion.

The third moment took place by email.  An American colleague recently pointed out that in 2008, shortly after the Madoff investment scandal rocked Jewish charities and in the height of the financial crisis, a group of philanthropists convened a summit to plan for the coming lean years of philanthropy.  Their planning was critical in guiding the North American community through turbulent years.  My colleague asked “Today, with the stock market recovering, unemployment dropping, and the economy recovering, who is calling a summit to plan for the coming fat years of giving” 

On a macro level, this communal planning is a habit of the head for tzedakah.  But such a habit is required by each of us, as we carefully select and plan out giving.   The needs of our community and our world are so great that each of us must develop unique thinking to guide our own tzedakah.

These three tzedakah moments have helped me clarify three habits that I hope to develop in myself and my daughter.  For her, the little blue tin box is developing the first habit of hand – regular giving. When she is ready we will help her develop her own habits of the heart and mind – her own passions and through processes for tzedakah that will hopefully guide her philanthropy for years to come. 

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