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Honey from the Rock: Righteous Foundation

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 248:1(Code of Jewish Law)

“Everyone is obligated to give Tzedakah. Even people supported by tzedakah must give from what they receive. Anyone who refuses to give tzedakah or gives less than what he should give, the court pressures him until he gives the amount he has been assessed. The court may confiscate his possessions and deduct from them the appropriate amount (for Tzedakah).”

How can a court force someone to give tzedakkah? Tzedakah is commonly translated as charity which is given in a non-coercive manner. However, charity and tzedakah are different. The root of the word tzedakah is tzedek, “righteousness”. A Tzadik is a righteous person. Yoseph [Joseph] (one of the twelve sons of Jacob), is the only one of the Jewish people’s ancestors who is specifically referred to as a Tzadik, i.e., Yosef HaTzadik. Why? In Proverbs it is written Tzadik Yesod Olam, a Tzadik is the foundation of the world. What does this mean? The Kabbalah explains that Yesod is the ability to serve as a conduit between multiple elements, directing and shaping the energy of those elements into a coherent whole, a whole which is greater than its separate parts. Consider the following imagery: in one of Yosef’s dreams, the wheat sheaves of Yosef’s brothers all gathered around Yosef’s sheaf and bowed down to it. Yosef (represented by the sheaf) is the connecting point, the facilitator of interrelationship between the various elements of the whole represented by his brothers. Admittedly, this was a quality that Yosef needed to learn how to actualize, which he did while in an Egyptian prison for twelve years! So great was this quality that he utlimately was responsible for the coordination of an international sustainability project…feeding the world! This quality of Yosef is rooted in his understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God, Tzelem Elokim, Who is the ultimate connector! This then is the heart of tzedek and of tzedakah, the ability to understand that we are not isolated and self-serving beings. We are here to help others and that to not help others is a violation of the dignity of oneself being Tzelem Elokim. Hence, if someone gives less tzedakah than is “required”, the court can mandate the person to give what is due, not only for the benefit of others, but for the very benefit of the person themselves, i.e., the maintenance of their own inherent dignity. In other words, a person should never feel so destitute as to not be in a position to give. This is the essence of social sustainability, the strength and health of the social fabric comes from the integrity of its components…us.


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