We are ready to light the candles again, and tonight we have quite a number. As we light them, let us think for a moment about each one. First Faith, second Freedom, third Courage, fourth Love. And now tonight, the fifth, “Charity.”
Charity is an important part of our lives. The Hebrew word for charity, Zedakah, does not mean quite the same as the English word. In Hebrew it means “justice.”
In English we, of course, associate it with helping those who are less fortunate than we are. And yet we can see how these two meanings go together perfectly. It is just for us to help those who are less fortunate. We must make charity an important part of our lives, because it is right for us to do so. Through charity we earn the benefits that come with justice.
There is a good reason for the association of justice and righteousness with charity. It was conceived to protect the feelings of those who receive charity. It was designed to save them from humiliation or embarrassment, for certainly people prefer to earn their own way; prefer to be in a position to take care of their bodies when they are sick; to pay for their own food when they are hungry; to buy their own new clothing when the old is worn; to find their own shelter when they are homeless.
But the world we live in is an uncertain world, and disasters do happen. And those who, like many of us in America, are among the more fortunate, must help the others. We must give. We must give not only in the material things that we can see and examine. We must give the things that are not seen, but are felt. We must give of kindness, of understanding.
We must give of tolerance and patience because these things, too, bring joy and ease pain.
There is a great pleasure that comes to us when we have given of ourselves and of those things that we own. But while it is good to enjoy the pleasure of giving, we must remember that we do not give in order to please ourselves. We give to help others, to find joy in the knowledge that when we have given, others have benefited. Having learned to give, we will want to give again, and we will want to give more. The real mitzvah, the real pleasure of giving, will teach us the true meaning of charity.
We come from people who know how to give. As Americans and as Jews we must learn to give readily and generously.
Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth. (DEUTERONOMY 15:7,8)