What makes a Jewish house Jewish? Well, there’s a mezuzah on the doorpost and books of Jewish wisdom on the shelves. Guests are welcome, and when a needy soul knocks on the door, he doesn’t go away empty-handed. And then there’s a little box or tin can sitting on a counter somewhere. Every day, a little spare change gets dropped in there, plus a few more coins just before Shabbat. When it’s full, it goes to whichever good cause the family chooses.
It could be there’s a top-of-the-line entertainment system in this house; maybe a leading-edge computer, along with many expensive appliances and gadgets. But none has as great an impact on people’s lives, or fills the house with as much meaning and adds as much beauty as the pushka (Yiddish for “little box”).
There are, of course, other ways to give charity. What’s so special about the pushka?
“How often,” said the 12th-century sage Maimonides, “is more important than how much.”
Why? Because when you write a check for $365, a good cause gets another $365. But give a dollar every day for 365 days-and your hand becomes a giving hand. As an anonymous Jewish sage wrote, “A person is more influenced by the things he does than by the knowledge he is taught.”
So if you want to pick yourself up, get into some elevated habits-like dropping coins in a box.
And it’s not just you-your pushka will pick up your living space as well. “A charity box in a home or office redefines the entire space,” the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught. “It is no longer just a home, just an office. It is a center of kindness and caring.”
That is why the Rebbe suggested making a pushka box a permanent fixture in your home or office. Affix it to a wall, or more correctly: affix your house to it.
Then there’s your time. Time needs to be elevated, too. One action elevates the time in which it was done. Many actions-even if they are small-elevate so many more moments. That’s why the Baal Shem Tov taught, “Don’t let a day go by without its own act of giving.”
The Kabbalists refer to this as “elevating time, space, and person.” Or you can just call it “making a better world.”
No Charity, Please
Charity, everyone knows, means being a nice guy and giving your money to someone with less. That’s why, in Jewish tradition, we never give charity. It’s unheard of.
Our sages teach that whatever we have doesn’t really belong to us. We are no more than treasurers. Everything that comes through our hands is given us in order to use for good things, such as educating our kids, or nourishing our body with kosher and healthy food, or giving to people who are short on what they need.
That’s why in Jewish tradition we call it “giving tzedakah.” Tzedakah means “doing the right thing.” Putting your stuff where it really belongs. That’s where your money will reap you the most benefit and bring you the most good-because that’s where it’s meant to be.