Our topic today concerns Tzedakah. ‘Tzedakah’ means ‘righteousness’, and is a very important word in our vocabulary. It is the goal of our faith, and the ambition of everyone who loves GOD; to be righteous in the sight of the Almighty. It carries with it the promise of everlasting happiness, besides the blessing it is to all humanity.
In Judaism Tzedakah is more than just good deeds. It includes a righteous disposition, a heart that is true to GOD. Our sages very rightly laid down the axiom, ‘that without a true heart, our best deeds are unacceptable to GOD, however good they are in themselves.’ In our prayers for Yom Kippur, it is accompanied by repentance and prayer in order to be effective in averting the decree of judgment against the sinner.
With so much at stake, and a subject that is so close to our minds and hearts, it is fitting to ask the leading question: what exactly is Tzedakah? How do we attain to it? What example can we, must we follow? We learn best by example. Does the Tanakh give us any? And indeed we find, to our joy, that it does. In the Torah, in the prophets, and in the writings, notably the Psalms, we have an abundance of examples, precepts, and promises regarding this all important matter. Our eternal happiness depends upon it, so we shall give it our full consideration.
Let us began with Torah, in the first book called Bereshith (Genesis), in the account of the sacrifices of Cain, and of Abel, in Genesis Chapter 4, verses 3 to 7. From this account, we find that what made Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable was his sin. GOD therefore, did not accept his person, and as a result, anything, and everything he did was unacceptable to GOD, however right it might have been in itself. This is why GOD said to him,
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not well, sin lies at the door.
Let me suggest the example of a thief who seeks to salve his conscience. He decides to give some of the things he stole to charity, and expects that GOD will forgive him for stealing. Does that make sense? Of course not. The problem with Cain was that he rejected the way of Tzedakah; he sought to cover his sins by offering sacrifices. GOD made it clear to him that only when his sins were put away, was he and his offering, pleasing to the Almighty.
On the other hand, Abel brought a sacrifice that included the shed blood of an innocent substitute.
Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat, and the LORD respected Abel and his offering. (Genesis Chapter 4, verse 4). Abel was aware of his own sin. He knew that the only way that he could stand accepted before GOD, was by providing a sacrifice where an innocent substitute took away his guilt. This involved the death of the substitute, since before GOD, sin is a capital crime.
Such an awareness must have been common to all of the family, or Cain would not have been held responsible for his failure to comply. The Divine standard from the beginning was that sin can only be forgiven when the life-blood of an innocent substitute is offered in the place of the offender, and by the offender. Such is the prescription of the Torah in Leviticus Chapter 17, verse 11:
For the life of the flesh is In the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your soul, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
It was this vital, indispensable rule that Cain dispensed with, and thereby he failed to attain Tzedakah. Abel complied. He honoured GOD’s requirements, and won GOD’s approval. His very deed proclaimed him to be a Tzaddik, a righteous man. From this example we conclude that righteousness, or Tzedakah, is not produced merely by doing what is right. It is the source of everything that is right. Cain offered of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. It was the result of his own labour, and he did not bring a right heart with it. Abel believed and obeyed and showed by so doing, that his heart was right with GOD. That is the true meaning of Tzedakah. It is not by our own works, but by faith.
GOD’s requirements have never changed. If we wish to be accounted as righteous before Him, we need to stop relying on what we do in order to be justified. We must believe Him when He says that we can only approach Him through the shed blood of an innocent substitute, and we need to do so, not merely accept it in theory. When our minds only are affected, we remain largely unchanged and unmoved. When the truth affects our hearts, we will spring into action.
Thanks be to GOD, He not only propounds the way we can attain to Tzedakah, He has also provided it Himself. He has done so by sending Messiah YESHUA to save us by taking our guilt and punishment upon Himself. Although He was innocent and righteous, He, Messiah, traded places with us, and was condemned to die instead of us. Listen to what GOD says about this in Isaiah Chapter 53, verses 11 and 12:
By His knowledge, My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. Tzedakah, righteousness, is the gift of GOD. It is ours for the asking when we seek it in GOD’s way, as Abel did. Shalom.