I was just reading through some old e-mails when I happened upon something I wrote on November 4, 2004. I was about to finish grad school and move back to New York. President George W. Bush had just been re-elected. This e-mail is particularly apropos given my recent trip to Israel, the 2008 Presidential race, and the current situation in the Gulf Coast. I wanted to share it in the hopes that it speaks to you and you find it in your heart to donate your money or time to the charity that moves you the most.
My recent contributions have been to support my friend Michelle DeForest who is running a marathon to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and to the American Red Cross to help those affected by Hurricane Gustav.
Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, another religion, non-religious, atheist or some combination thereof, I hope we can connect as human beings and help lift each other up. To me, being able to help someone in the best feeling in the world.
From: Whitney Georgina Hess
Sent: Thursday, November 04, 2004 3:27 PM
Subject: Daily mitzvah
There are 613 mitzvot (commandments) in Judaism that we are supposed to obey every day of our lives. As most of you know, I am not a particularly religious person — I don’t go to synagogue, I don’t keep kosher, and I don’t read the torah. But a love and respect for life was ingrained in me at a very early age. At a time like this when I feel a deep sense of loss and disappointment, it’s hard not to lose faith in humanity. But I’m reminded now of the way I am commanded by God to lead my life. Reviewing the mitzvot, I’m coming to realize how many of these deeds I regularly fail to perform.
- Not to wrong any one in speech
- Not to bear a grudge
- Not to cherish hatred in one’s heart
- Not to curse a father or mother
The mitzvot regarding love & brotherhood and the poor & unfortunate strike me the most. Not to stand by idly when a human life is in danger. To rebuke the sinner. To relieve a neighbor of his burden. To give charity according to one’s means.
Tzedakah is the Hebrew word that refers to acts of charity, but its literal translation is righteousness, justice or fairness. In the Jewish faith there are eight levels of the tzedakah, represented on a ladder according to the merit of each act, the idea being that is it easy to give at the lowest level and increasingly difficult as you climb the ladder. Firstly, I should say that I do not believe that altruism exists. Selfless acts cannot exist because of the spiritual satisfaction that we get by putting another person’s welfare before our own. However, I still strongly believe in tzedakah and consider it one of my chief obligations as a Jew. Traditional Jewish law says that we are supposed to give one-tenth of our income (after taxes) to the poor, but it is commonly believed that there are other, perhaps more meritorious, ways to fulfill tzedakah.
The levels of tzedakah are as follows:
- Giving begrudgingly
- Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully
- Giving after being asked
- Giving before being asked
- Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
- Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient does not know your identity
- Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
- Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
The injustices in our local communities, in our nation, and worldwide remind me of what it means to be a person of faith. Faith is defined by belief, trust, and confidence in and allegiance to personal truths. In the face of disappointment, it is imperative that we keep faith in ourselves and in one another. It’s easy to feel helpless and defeated, but we must continually give of ourselves, simply out of appreciation for being alive.
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