Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tzedek and Tzedakah

Some translations courtesy of ArtScroll.

I have been trying to make tefillah more meaningful by paying attention to what I'm saying (never a bad idea). In the middle of Hashivah Shofteinu one day, I found myself trying to understand how the phrase, "v'haser mimenu yagon va'anachah," (remove from us grief and sighing) fits into this paragraph that seems to be about justice. So I went on a little bit of a tangent, thinking about the relationship between tzedek (justice, or righteousness) and tzedakah (charity).

First, justice is a form of kindness. For example, in a just society, you know that a murderer will be brought to justice for violating the law. A person inclined to murder is perhaps deterred because of the inevitable retribution, and you can live more peacefully. This is kindness.

Next: There is a system of so-called justice which is actually cruel, e.g. the justice of Sodom. "Hak'tza'akasah" [Bereishis, 18:21]- If in accordance to her outcry - Rashi interprets this as a reference to that which occurred to one young girl. She gave food to a poor person, and they killed her through a grisly death. Where the law exists to prohibit all forms of kindness, justice is not served.

Finally, Turnus Rufus once asked Rabbi Akiva something to the effect of, Why do you seek to change G-d's decree by giving charity to poor people? To which Rabbi Akiva responded to the effect that G-d created the poor to give us opportunities to feed and clothe them. Thus the giving of charity is merely the just distribution of funds; the money being ours only to manage, not to own (as anyone who is dead might tell you). So charity is justice.

The removal of "grief and sighing" can be understood in the context of all three of the above: A dependable justice system, a legal system whose foundation is not cruel, and charity as justice.