The Hebrew word "tzedakah" is commonly translated as "charity" or "tithe." But this is misleading. "Charity" implies that your heart motivates you to go beyond the call of duty. "Tzedakah," however, literally means "righteousness" — doing the right thing. A "tzaddik," likewise, is a righteous person, someone who fulfills all his obligations, whether in the mood or not.
When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give [them] to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that they can eat to satiety in your cities. [Devarim 26:12]
The issue of giving a tithe is a very difficult one. Many questions arise such as How much to give? How often? Is it based on Net or Gross income? This is especially hard during these tough economic times when many are without work or struggling to live.
As tough as things are, though, I would urge you not to cut back on your outlay for Shabbat. Because our sages assure us that what we pay to honor the Shabbat is not deducted from our divinely determined annual income.
Under your present circumstances, there are a number of expenses that you are allowed to count as part of your ma’aser (ten percent designated for charity).
- Torah books can be paid for from ma’aser monies; if you purchase them for loaning to others also, besides for your own use. You may also purchase items for the local synagogue.
- Remember that ma’aser only has to be taken from net income, not from gross income. In addition, it is possible to deduct from your net certain work related expenses that Uncle Sam may not allow.
The Source of all income is HaShem. The actual cash comes to us in many different channels, we often refer to them as "work," but HaShem is the source of everything in life. He only desires that we create those channels to provide a means for His blessings to manifest themselves. But if we lose focus on the Source of Income and only invest in the channels—that would be exactly like selling off the printing press while looking for more printing jobs; maybe worse.
What’s fascinating is that HaShem Himself teaches us in the Torah, through His prophet Malachi, how to continue generating income in the form of literal, tangible goods from the Source of Income: tzedakah (charity)!
Will man rob HaShem? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says HaShem Tzivaot, [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it.". (Malachi 3:8-10)
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