Jews are about to enter (or have already) the season of charitable giving. Synagogue High Holy Day appeals, school fundraisers, honey and greeting cards for charity, and every other cause under the sun will be petitioning for donations. For many of us, it is a time to give because we have always done so. It is easy to check the box with the multiple of 18, or to give in the same amounts to the same charities we always do. It is a mitzvah and it is almost automatic. But we are missing an opportunity to work on our spiritual, mental and financial health by doing so.
It is about as counterintuitive as anything can get, but charitable giving in the Jewish sense, tzedakah, can actually help with managing your finances, and not just by reducing taxes if you itemize. Tzedakah is itself a nuanced concept — it includes giving money, time and things, but it also includes a consideration of who is receiving, what they can accomplish with it and how the donation is made.
Instead of giving automatically to the same charities and causes — and note the key word here is “automatically” — take some time to think about why they are worthy to receive your funds. This allows you to examine your priorities and align your values with your actions. Your decision to give may not change, but by consciously examining where your charitable donation is going you have allowed the righteous nature of giving to elevate your spirit.
The elevation of spirit is both religious and psychological. There is growing evidence that people who help others are happier on a daily basis and healthier overall. While it may seem daunting to see that there are many worthy causes not getting your support, the act of choosing where to contribute your time and energy will still have a positive effect.
Likewise, by taking into account the nature of a contribution, you are thinking outside the boundaries of a simple financial calculation. Since your contemplation has made giving a priority, then so it must affect managing your finance. You are more likely to budget in a way that will allow you to support the organizations and causes that you value, and the exercise of budgeting will help you improve other areas of your financial life.
The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington works with our borrowers and community members to understand the basics of financial literacy. We know that just taking a realistic look at your finances, creating a realistic budget and making basic changes can improve anyone’s financial circumstance. Utilizing your desire to give tzedakah is an excellent way to start on the path to better financial health.
By all means, give during this season of charitable solicitation — just remember to use this time to examine your values, your priorities and your budget. It will make for a good start to the next year. Shana Tova!
Rabbi Deborah Reichmann is the executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington.