The Value of Tzedakah
I would like to analyze the value of Tzedakah and give some suggestions on how we can incorporate it into our homes, our children's lives, and onto their radar screens. (As we all know, they are all in possession of a screen in one form or another!)
So here are the two questions: In a world where our children live with abundance and excess, how can we explain to them the importance of giving charity to those in need? Especially when, thank G-d, they have never known need?
I remember as a kid when I would complain that I didn't like the dinner my mother made, I would say "I'm starving!” and my mother would respond, “Starving! You don't know what starving is! The children in third world countries, those kids are starving! You just don’t want fish for dinner.” (And she was absolutely right, if I would walk into the house and smell fish cooking for dinner, I would mope around and feel as if I had truly been punished). As true as this was, I don't think that as a kid, this analogy helped me understand the concept of world hunger.
Another question: Although giving charity is a priority, in our fast paced society and whirlwind of extracurricular activities and obligations, how do we actually fit this into our hectic, and busy lives?
Now for some answers….
As true with most lessons and values we want to imbue and instill into our children, modeling is always the best place to start. How do you think little Sammy would feel if after unwrapping his long awaited Chanukah present, his mom said, "Oh Sammy, honey, it would be so nice if you gave half that set of Legos to cousin Jakey; he never gets Legos and would really appreciate that.”
This would be wholly unfair! Sammy is a typical kid who in all probability is not entirely selfish, yet children are born into this world as selfish beings. Without having Tzedakah modeled for long enough, we cannot possibly expect Sammy to readily agree to this charity opportunity.
A better idea would be for mom to model this attribute. Modeling charity can be done in many different ways:
1)Taking your child with you when you bring your hand-me down clothing to a family who needs them.
2)Volunteering in a soup kitchen.
3)Going to visit an older couple with flowers as a gift for them.
4)Asking your kids to help rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.
5)Driving a home bound person to the grocery store.
These are all forms of Tzedakah – giving of one’s time, effort, or money. Modeling Tzedakah is just like modeling our respect for our parents. If our children see us talking respectfully to our parents by offering them a cup of coffee or making time for them, then chances are that when we get older, this is how our children will treat us.
Let's also make a disclaimer here: It's okay if your kids see that Tzedakah is sometimes hard for you or even annoying. Not all forms of charity are sweet and rosy. Not all forms of charity will put your names in lights and honor you at a Gala dinner.
I recall recently that I did something for someone and was pretty exhausted afterwards. My twelve year old daughter asked me, "Mommy, why did you do that for that woman if it was so tedious and exhausting?! To which I answered, "Chevy- it's not always fun and easy to help others, but I did this for her because she needed it, and I wanted to help her."
If we model this giving of ourselves or our time, whether it's easy or challenging, our kids will notice and they WILL soak up this value just by being under the same roof. Finally, an easy way to bring up "world hunger" and to broaden our children's insulated economic world view is EXPOSURE. You can do this by nonchalantly leaving articles around, or by taking a wrong turn into a rundown neighborhood to let your children see “the other side.” Don't only invite people of your "social status" to your home, but invite a needier family as well. Don't be shy when passing a bus stop to say, "It's so cold out, thank G-d we have a car.” These small and inconspicuous acts and comments creep into the young and impressionable minds of our kids, and gently remind them of others who are less fortunate.
May G-d give us the strength to model this value of Tzedakah and may we all have the merit to see our kids be the ones running to help those in their community in need.
Miriam Mammon is a City Leader with Light of Israel (Rochester, New York)