by Ruth Andrew Ellenson
When I was little, my father would begin every Shabbat by having each person in my family donate money to the bright blue and white tzedakah box we kept in our dining room. We would collect coins and deposit them into the little metal slot one by one, listening to each one drop with a satisfying metal clink.
I wish I could say that I was pious enough as a child to have truly enjoyed this act of charity – this small bit of tikkun olam foisted upon me in a valiant attempt to form my good character. But I did not. Instead, with each dropping coin, I lamented in my heart the money that was going to strangers instead of my candy supply. With each quarter that vanished into the void, visions of chocolate, sugar and other tasty treats filled my head with longing and despair.
It’s tough to want things and have to give away what you have. As a kid, sugar was my idea of perfect happiness (and really, has that changed?) and it was being forced out of my hands to help people I didn’t even know.
Our whole society is geared towards acquisition. The idea of owning that one thing that will bring us perfect happiness – be it candy when you’re six, or a car when you’re 60 – is something we are programmed for from birth. The idea that material things can bring satisfaction is a fantasy that’s hard to let go.
And yet sooner or later (hopefully sooner) we learn the lesson that getting everything you want, and keeping everything you have, doesn’t really make you happy. You realize that wealth really has no meaning unless you go out into the world and share it with others.
As an adult, I’m grateful for the lesson my dad taught us at the Shabbat table. Now when I give tzedekah , I get so much more satisfaction than I ever did from my candy supply – even chocolate doesn’t compare with the sweetness of giving.
Ruth Andrew Ellenson won the National Jewish Book Award for her anthology “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” and lectures regularly on Jewish women’s identity issues. Learn more at www.guiltguide.com.
This article first appeared in TOGETHER: Jewish Giving Today, published by The Jewish Federations of North America. Reprinted with permission.