Ear­li­er this week, Talia Carn­er wrote about grow­ing up as a a sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion sabra among the Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion of Holo­caust sur­vivors in Israel, there­by inher­it­ing a piece of their lega­cy of remem­brance. She is the author of four nov­els, includ­ing the recent­ly pub­lished Hotel Moscow, and will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

As we raise our chil­dren to be aware of the world around them, to think of oth­ers, and to be gen­er­ous, we try to instill in them the prac­tice of tzeda­ka.

But what is tzeda­ka?” my daugh­ter once asked me. 

Say­ing be good to oth­ers,” didn’t cut it for me, as I know the Hebrew root word tzedek means jus­tice.” The direc­tive to do good was more than mere­ly the notion of giv­ing or even cor­rect­ing a wrong. The val­ue of tzeda­ka is woven through­out the Bible, Jew­ish wis­dom and cul­ture, and encom­pass­es the mean­ing of the inten­tions behind benev­o­lent actions. After some research, I was able to bet­ter explain tzeda­ka:

  • Pur­sue jus­tice.” Tzedek, tzedek, tird­of trans­lates as: Jus­tice, jus­tice, you shall pur­sue.” Right­eous­ness is not pas­sive, but rather an act one must pur­sue” it. This val­ue requires us not only to respond to injus­tice and suf­fer­ing when we see it, but to active­ly search for oppor­tu­ni­ties to act in right­eous ways.
  • Love thy neigh­bor” means that we should treat oth­ers as well as we treat our­selves. It is a com­mand­ment to care for oth­ers through direct action.
  • Pe’ah, help­ing the poor while mak­ing sure they keep their dig­ni­ty: In ancient Israelite soci­ety, a landown­er had to leave a cor­ner, or pe’ah, of his field or orchard unhar­vest­ed so that the poor could pick choice fresh food, not rot­ten leftovers. 
  • Gemi­lut chasadim means to bestow lov­ing kind­ness­es.” Unlike char­i­ty, which awaits the cry of dis­tress, benev­o­lence antic­i­pates it. It comes from with­in, from a com­pas­sion­ate heart, and involves active good­will of shar­ing what­ev­er one has with anoth­er who is deprived.
  • Pro­tect the Earth: Earth is the Lord’s” express­es the idea that we live in a world that we did not cre­ate and noth­ing in it real­ly belongs to us. All things are on loan to us, for safekeeping.
  • Tikun olam means that, since the world we live in is imper­fect, each of us must find oppor­tu­ni­ties to active­ly par­tic­i­pate in improv­ing some part it.

The break­ing down of tzeda­ka to small­er com­po­nents helped my daugh­ter notice her own behav­ior. It helped her become mind­ful of sit­u­a­tions and take action — from stop­ping bul­ly­ing to pre­serv­ing a receiver’s dig­ni­ty. It helped her become a bet­ter Jew and a bet­ter person.

Talia Carner’s fourth nov­el, Hotel Moscow, was just released by Harper­Collins. It is the sto­ry of an Amer­i­can woman who trav­els to Rus­sia short­ly after the fall of Com­mu­nism, becomes embroiled in inves­ti­gat­ing a busi­ness crime, and when fac­ing anti-Semi­tism, comes to terms with her par­ents’ Holo­caust lega­cy and her own Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. For more about the author and the book, please vis­it www​.Tal​i​aCarn​er​.com

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