Giving is like exercise — the more it’s done, the more it becomes second nature. That’s the principle at the heart of the message from 12th century scholar and philosopher Rambam (Maimonides). Your family can strengthen its giving behavior, or tzedakah (from the Hebrew word meaning righteousness, fairness, or justice), by establishing routine habits and creating ongoing opportunities.
STRENGTHENING GIVING BEHAVIOR
If you had $100 to give away, would be it better to give that lump sum to a single person or to divvy it up and give $1 to 100 different people? Rambam (Maimonides) says the latter option is ideal because the act of repeated giving turns generosity into a habit. By continually fostering a spirit of generosity, more giving will ultimate result. He writes:
“If a person gives 1,000 coins at one time and to one person, this is secondary to the one who gives 1,000 times with 1,000 coins … for the latter case multiplies the spirit of generosity 1,000 times over, while giving just once will arouse awaken the spirit of generosity once, and then it ends.”
(Commentary to Mishnah Avot 3:15)
Indeed, the act of giving, especially when done habitually, nurtures compassion and a sense of responsibility to the community. Parents can make giving an instinctive and proactive behavior for their children by creating rituals and customs centered on tzedakah.
Parents Magazine and Parenting.com writer Diane Harris explains in her online article, “Teaching Your Child Charity,” that “all kids are born with an innate sense of charity and compassion.” A parent can foster that innate sense by providing the means and encouragement to give.
Sara Shapiro-Plevan adds in her MyJewishLearning.com blogpost, “Teaching Tzedakah to Children,” that “childhood is the ideal time to teach your child about justice from the Jewish perspective: tzedakah.”
Parents can teach the Jewish value of tzedakah by exemplifying it. Below are some creative ongoing and once-a-year ways to integrate tzedakah into your family.
Ongoing Tzedakah Opportunities
SHABBAT PREPARATIONS — Explain to children that we mark the end of each week by sharing what we earned the preceding days. Empty your pockets Friday evening in order to make the transition to Shabbat. While you’re at it, drop any loose change into the tzedakah box.
ALLOWANCE — An allowance enables a child to learn responsible spending and saving. It also provides an opportunity to teach giving. One idea is to have your child divide his/her allowance into thirds — one third for spending, one third for saving, and one third for giving.
MONTHLY FAMILY MEETINGS — Some families find that joint giving efforts reinforce generous behavior. Consider holding a regular family meeting with children present. As a group, decide what cause to support in the month ahead. Make a special dinner or snack to enjoy while contemplating the monthly decision.
Once-A-Year Tzedakah Opportunities
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS — Most Jewish holidays have some element of tzedakah woven into them. For example, some families enjoy a Hanukkah tradition of dedicating one night — presents, dreidel-winnings and all — to tzedakah. On Purim, it is traditional to give Matanot L’Evyonim, gifts to the poor. On Passover, some participate in the custom of welcoming in anyone without a place to go for the Seder. Your family can use Jewish holidays as an impetus for giving.
BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS — Many parents believe their children have more toys than are needed. Parents Magazine writer Beth Dalby introduces us in her Parents Magazine article, “Host a ‘Do-Good’ Party: Birthdays that Benefit,” to a number of families who encourage their children to donate birthday presents to charity or select a charity to which donations can be made in lieu of gifts. The child can choose a worthwhile cause of his or her own interest.
FAMILY MISSION STATEMENTS — What are your giving goals? In what ways can your family help foster righteousness and justice? As a family, explore ideas and write down a collective vision.
Stephen R. Covey, renowned author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, asks, “Can you imagine anything more energizing, more unifying, more filled with satisfaction than working with members of your family to accomplish something that really makes a difference in the world?"
Indeed, there are countless ways to participate in tzedakah as a family. Whatever effort your family puts forth, be proud of the progress your endeavors foster. Your giving makes a difference.
January 1, 2015