Rabbi Aaron Lerner for Giving Voice: Why Tzedakah on the High Holidays?

Why Tzedakah on the High Holidays?
by Rabbi Aaron Lerner, president & CEO

This piece was originally featured in the August 2023 Giving Voice.

As we enter the High Holiday season, Jewish wisdom offers a prescription of teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (money to help others) to assist us as we attempt to wipe away our transgressions and seek a better future.

The inclusion of repentance and prayer seem obvious as they prompt us to examine our actions, seek forgiveness, and commit to positive change. Tzedakah, however, may feel less apparent. What does giving money away have to do with the more ethereal considerations of the High Holiday season?

In Jewish thought, tzedakah is more than just charitable giving; it embodies justice and righteousness (both of which share tzedakah’s Hebrew root, tzedek). So perhaps its inclusion underscores the High Holidays’ theme of caring for the world beyond just ourselves. By engaging in tzedakah during this sacred time, individuals not only show compassion but also actively contribute to the restoration and betterment of their communities and the world at large.

Or, perhaps, it’s playing on internal versus external transformation. We engage in repentance and prayer primarily within ourselves. Tzedakah, however, serves as an external embodiment of our values. Giving plainly demonstrates our commitment to care for the vulnerable, support education, promote justice, and so many other Jewish values.

As such, we learn that repentance and prayer are incomplete without tangible acts of giving. Tzedakah becomes an essential ingredient of spiritual and personal growth. Which may help us understand why even a poor person is instructed to give tzedakah. The act of giving, at whatever level, changes us in ways that nothing else can.

As we enter the New Year, I encourage us to embrace the full triad of repentance, prayer, and giving. We go higher in our own spirituality when we help others rise as well! L’Shanah Tovah, and may the New Year bring hope, good health, and happiness to you and your family.

This piece was originally featured in the August 2023 Giving Voice.