Counting On A Precedent

  Kindness is what we do; charity is what we give. At least, that is the lesson that we are taught in the Talmud (b. Sukkah 49b). Our sages say that chesed (kindness) and tzedakah (charity) can be compared on three levels, all of which have kindness “winning out” in the end.

1. Tzedakah, they say, can be performed only with one’s money, while chesed can be completed with one’s money or one’s actions.
2. Tzedakah is given to the needy while chesed can be given to both the needy and those rich in blessing.
3. They say tzedakah is given only to the living while chesed can be given to both the living and the deceased (i.e., the burial and mourning rituals).
4. Chesed and tzedakah are both values that we hold dear to us in our community.

  In fact, in our last Light, we introduced the theme for this semester’s Makor – a “Precedential Election.” With Rabbi Chessin playing the role of Tzedek (justice – notice the same Hebrew root letters as tzedakah) and me playing the role of Chesed, we are bringing to life these two different principles to teach our students the relationship, dichotomy, and need for both charity (justice) and kindness. Small interlude – Tzedek and Tzedakah share a root as Tzedakah can be thought of as just or righteous giving, now translated into English as charity. It should be evident that a Precedential Election is playing off of the theme of our society this year as we go through an election cycle. (As I sit and write, we are still before our November 3rd election; I know not what the future holds; as you read, you can recall the anxiety that existed for one and all, no matter for whom you pulled the lever). Nonetheless, our Makor curriculum focused on these core ideas: Justice, charity, kindness, compassion. All exist within our world, there is room for them all, there is a need for them all, and our students must be exposed to them all so we can help to shape a generation of learners, doers, listeners and leaders that of whom we can all be proud.
It leaves me thinking about the above text from the Talmud. Our sages provided opinion after opinion after opinion, often contradicting each other, leaving room for dissent and argument, memorializing the discussions so that in the future (today), we can still see where variance in our practice might be found. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deut. 16:20) – olam chesed yibneh (Psa 89:3) – the world will be built upon kindness, all of these phrases which can be teased out from our traditional texts are taken in sum, not individually. Our society is built upon an even balance of all of our morals, some of which may be more valuable to one family and others more valuable to another. However, without learning about them all, without exposure to a spectrum of ideas, our students would be left to one-sided conversations. Thus,   Rabbi Chessin and I don our costumes on Sunday mornings, using our Zoom backgrounds and sound effects to bring our Precedential Election to life. Chesed and Tzedek may be looking to garner support from our students to win the competition. Still, neither of them disrespect the other but instead realize the importance of working together to create the balanced, just, kind community that we all deserve.

B’bracha (in blessing),
Rabbi Benjamin G. Azriel