Don't Lose Your Mitzvah

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

Putting a coin in a tzedakah boxOkay, it’s time to learn a little Hebrew. Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that is translated “commandment.” But unlike the word commandment, which may sound onerous to many of us, mitzvah has a positive connotation. Rather than being a dreary burden, doing a mitzvah is more like an opportunity, a chance to bless God and participate in his work by blessing someone else.

Let’s take a look at another Hebrew word: tzedakah. It’s a specific type of mitzvah. The word tzedakah is sometimes translated “charity,” but this is somewhat misleading since tzedakah is considered an obligation—something that justice requires—rather than something people do out of the kindness of their hearts. As with many other ethical matters, Jewish rabbis have had countless discussions regarding the importance of tzedakah, identifying eight degrees of giving. The lowest degree is to give grudgingly. The next degree is to give less than you should but cheerfully. The eighth and highest degree is to give in a way that enables others to support themselves.

Many Jewish people have tzedakah boxes in their houses, where they can set money aside to be given to those in need. The rabbis say it’s not just giving that’s important but how you contribute. Give away your time and money with a smile and an attitude of respect, and you will have done a mitzvah. Give it with disdain, and you will have lost your mitzvah.

As Christians, we are called by God to participate in his work by giving to those in need. It’s a way of spreading his peace, extending it to others. Perhaps you can remind yourself of this opportunity by obtaining your own tzedakah box, depositing money every week that you intend to give to those in need. 

(Image courtesy of pjlibrary.org)

 
Originally published October 23, 2014.

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