I'm going to start with two foolish assumptions:
1. Each one of us, regardless of income, feels crunched for money at times.
2. Each one of us is asked to pony up cash to support our synagogue / temple / Jewish day school / other Jewish organization, and has to make choices between what to keep for ourselves and what to give.
Tzedakah is often poorly translated as "charity" but more accurately means "justice" or "righteousness." We give money not out of the kindness of our own hearts, but because this is how one maintains a just and righteous world. The assets of this world -- land and money -- are not equally divided. And never will be, I presume. So we redistribute those assets by writing checks to help the hungry, the homeless, the needy and... the synagogue building fund.
It's so natural to give when you hear about hurricane Katrina. You want to help someone whose home has been destroyed. But to give another pledge to the synagogue, another check to the building fund, one more to this school or that. Oy, how much is enough? When do you give? When do you not give?
I'm not questioning paying temple or synagogue dues, of course we should, but we're also asked to give over and above that. How do you decide how much is enough? When you make your household budget, what is allocated to tzedakah, and to which worthy causes do you give? Do you give only to Jewish causes or to all kinds of charities?
I have to admit I haven't until now thought these questions through. It's always worked like this: Requests for money arrive at the door or call on the phone, and I or my husband do some quick but vague calculations and offer a dollar amount that we figure will help the organization, give us a little glow, but not leave us cursing later when we can't pay the emergency room bill for child 1 or 2 who fell out of a tree.
But I have a feeling... that we're not giving enough. Tzedakah is not a minor thing in Judaism. It is one of the pillars of our religion. I was putting my pennies in the pushka when I was barely tall enough to reach the kitchen counter. We teach it to our children and proclaim it in all our communities. But between the recognition of tzedakah's importance and the writing of the check... there falls doubt. Does [organization x] really need this money? What about the kids' college education - can I ever save enough?
So, tell me, how do you and your family deal with giving tzedakah? Let's talk about money.
(Tecnical note: To comment, click on the little number next to the title of this post. It's ZERO now. How sad. Please help. Comment generously.)