So we’ve determined that it’s our responsibility during Elul to identify the pieces of our lives that aren’t working so well and that once we’ve identified it, regret is likely to surface. Articulating that regret allows us to reject the behavior for the coming year and make room for new, improved ones. In this third week of Elul, we look at rejecting.
“Make the following declaration before God,” the Torah tell us (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). This suggests that we say it aloud before God - or publicly - so that you can hear your regrets and then reject them for the coming year. If we can’t articulate our sins, then how likely are we to be clear about what we are rejecting?
A good reason to pay attention and join in with the congregation when we recite the 44 statements of the Al Chyet prayers during Yom Kippur services..
“For the mistakes we have committed before You under duress or willingly…”
“For the mistakes we have committed before You through having a hard heart…”
“For the mistakes we have committed before You without thinking (or knowledge)…”
This year, I’m thinking about the third statement, with a focus on the “without thinking” part.
I regularly donate to a number of health-related charities; public radio, environmental groups, the local high school and for natural disasters, by check or credit card. Lately these have come to feel more like paying bills than making donations. I’m removed from the people who will benefit from my contribution. And this is beginning to undo the good feeling of having given.
So I was very interested in a newspaper story that a friend sent me several months ago about a 63-year-old unemployed man who was giving away $10 a day for one year. Even toward the end of the year, when he still didn’t have a job, getting out there kept this man grounded. But more importantly, he felt really good about the giving part.
I was mostly struck by the face-to-face nature of his giving: He could have surely written a check for $3650 to one charity– but, he wouldn’t have seen the faces of the folks on whom he made this small, but oh so impactful, impression.
Years ago, when I taught religious school to our fifth graders at Beth Emet, tzedakah was one of the three primary curriculum subjects for the each year. We learned from Maimonides that there are eight levels of giving. The lowest of these is when someone gives after being asked or solicited, especially if the person does so unwillingly or begrudgingly. Of highest merit, is giving an interest-free gift or loan, finding someone a job or entering into a partnership.
From least merit to best, the ladder of giving looks something like this:
8. Giving begrudgingly and inadequately. LEAST BEST
7. Giving adequately after being asked.
6. Giving before being asked.
5. Giving publicly to someone you don’t know.
4. Giving anonymously to someone you do know.
3. Giving anonymously to someone you don’t know by way of a trustworthy person or public fund.
2. Giving a grant to a person in need.
1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need. BEST
Maimonides believed that any kind of giving is good. But there’s giving and there’s Giving. This year, I will be rejecting some of the previous ways that I’ve been giving and brainstorming new ways to bring me closer to those I hope to benefit.
What would you consider rejecting? And how will you articulate it?