You give but little
when you Give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself
that you truly give.
You often say, "I would give,
but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so,
nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live,
for to withhold is to perish.
See first that you yourself
deserve to be a giver,
and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life
who deem yourself a giver,
are but a witness.
- Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, poet, and writer (1883 – 1931)
A Love Like That
all this time
the sun never
says to the earth,
"You owe Me."
with a love like that.
It lights the
if the sun stopped
Hafiz (1325-1389) from the collection The Gift. Hafiz was a Persian poet, acclaimed in his lifetime, and still beloved and quoted throughout the world.
Re’eh (5767) – Tzedakah: The Untranslatable Virtue
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Tzedakah cannot be translated because it joins together two concepts that in other languages are opposites, namely charity and justice. Suppose, for example, that I give someone £100. Either he is entitled to it, or he is not. If he is, then my act is a form of justice. If he is not, it is an act of charity. In English (as with the Latin terms caritas and iustitia) a gesture of charity cannot be an act of justice, nor can an act of justice be described as charity. Tzedakah is therefore an unusual term, because it means both.
It arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately, all things are owned by G-d, creator of the world. What we possess, we do not own – we merely hold it in trust for G-d. The clearest example is the provision in Leviticus: ‘The land must not be sold permanently because the land is Mine; you are merely strangers and temporary residents in relation to Me’ (Leviticus 25:23).
If there were absolute ownership, there would be a difference between justice (what we are bound to give others) and charity (what we give others out of generosity). The former would be a legally enforceable duty, the latter, at best, the prompting of benevolence or sympathy. In Judaism, however, because we are not owners of our property but merely guardians on G-d’s behalf, we are bound by the conditions of trusteeship, one of which is that we share part of what we have with others in need. What would be regarded as charity in other legal systems is, in Judaism, a strict requirement of the law and can, if necessary, be enforced by the courts.
The nearest English equivalent to tzedakah is the phrase that came into existence alongside the idea of a welfare state, namely social justice (significantly, Friedrich Hayek regarded the concept of social justice as incoherent and self-contradictory). Behind both is the idea that no one should be without the basic requirements of existence, and that those who have more than they need must share some of that surplus with those who have less. This is fundamental to the kind of society the Israelites were charged with creating, namely one in which everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and equal worth as citizens in the covenantal community under the sovereignty of G-d.
Full Piece at http://www.rabbisacks.org/reeh-5767-tzedakah-the-untranslatable-virtue/