Posts Tagged ‘tzedakah’

Tzedakah, Righteousness

December 14, 2009

I always struggled with a Roman view on judgement which concealed the original Hebrew meaning of this word. This Hebrew word, one of the most important keywords of the bible, means doing right, doing good.
– righteousness in government of judge or law
– righteousness in a case or cause
– righteousness in vindication or salvation etc.

In a synagogue you probably will find a box to put money in, with the word Tzedakah on it. In fact that has nothing to do with money, but it has to do with charity. It is a way of doing something righteous.

But what is righteousness then?

Do justly, love mercy (Micha 6:8) Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Is.1:17-18) He (God) doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. (Deut.10:18)

That’s what we have to do. It’s all based on the very first commandment: Love your God and your neighbour. And what is the righteousness of God? Here often a western understanding goes biased. Here often is handled the Roman rule of just: We have a law and those who act against it are to be punished.

That definitely doesn’t fit the meaning of Tzedakah. Tzedakah goes far beyond that. When Tzedakah comes from heaven it is always intertwined with merci, goodness, kindness, compassion. And not only that. G-d is not only righteous because he prefers good or even because he punished evil, he is essentially righteous because he comes  to the aid of those who are suffering, who have no hope if he does not deliver them. G-d’s righteousness cannot be separated from his saving activity. [1] Salvation (Yeshua in Hebrew) is in the meaning of Tzedakah.

Tzedakah is often related with justice or judgement. The judgement of the righteousness. It is also several times translated as justice. (15x in the KJV, 128x as righteousness) But the Hebrew word for judgement is different, it is Mishpat.

When G-d is to judge people in showing his righteousness, it always has in it that G-d wants to deliver the poor and the weak. That is the first thing we have to keep in mind. And when we do not listen and repent, then there’s punishment. See psalm 36:6: Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast. There is not stated “to punish”, but “to preserve”.

And that is what I would like to say. G-d’s righteousness and judgement is not to eleminate humanity, but to establish it.

A Tsedek is a person who fullfil the Law/Torah. And the Torah is based on Love. And therefore the judgement (Mishpat) of a tsedek is never without Love.


[1] Contours of Pauline theology, Tom Holland, p.158