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Tzedakah - The Importance of Giving

The Importance of Giving

ve'tzaddik chonein ve'notein...

by John J. Parsons

Psalm 37:21a

But the righteous one is gracious and giving...
Psalm 37:21b

IN JEWISH TRADITION, tzedakah is an act of righteousness that comes from our duty to help others in need. It is sometimes understood as "charity," but the root word means justice or fairness rather than philanthropy or generosity.  Tzedakah means "doing the right thing" by demonstrating tzedek (justice, fairness) in your life. The Scriptures command: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: "justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20), and therefore helping others in need is a divine imperative.

Deut. 16:20

A person who routinely practices righteousness is called a tzaddik, a righteous man (a tz'deket is a righteous woman).  Followers of Yeshua (Jesus) are to be known as tzaddikim (Matt. 5:16; 1 John 2:29, 3:7,10) because they demonstrate their love by giving to others.

Some of the Jewish sages have said that practicing tzedakah is among the highest of all the mitzvot (commandments), along with teshuvah (repentance) and tefillah (prayer). Indeed, tzedakah is declared to be life-giving: בּארח־צדקה חיים - be'orach-tzedakah chayim - "in the path of tzedakah there is life" (Prov. 12:28).

Note that this verse further identifies the tzaddik as gracious (from chanan, one of the key attributes of the Name of the Lord given in Ex. 34:6-7) and giving (from natan, the root of the Hebrew word for "gift"). The tzaddik goes beyond the obligation to perform tzedakah as a mere outward duty and practices benevolent love.

Of course the greatest act of tzedakah was demonstrated by the gracious gift of Yeshua as our sacrifice for sin. He alone truly fulfilled the Torah of Moses and gave Himself as a sacrificial offering upon the cross at Moriah to save the world from the wrath of God (2 Cor. 5:19; John 3:36).

By means of His substitutionary death, those who trust in Him are also justified as tzaddikim, since "the tzaddik shall live by faith" (see Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Ultimately, then, this verse is about Jesus - the Righteous One who is gracious and giving to all who call upon him. 

Blessed be His Name.


Psalm 37:21a (BHS) Transliteration

ve'tzaddik chonein ve'notein

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