Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tshuve Tfile Tsedoke: How Will YOU Be Averting an Evil Decree?

Our tradition tells us that during the ten days between Rosh Hashone and Yom Kiper, tshuve, tfile and tsedoke (repentance, prayer and charity) can avert an evil decree and bring us into good favor with the Judge upstairs.

Tshuve is hard. Tshuve actually means return more than repentance. Return from one's less than ideal behaviors and patterns. And, as we all know, true inner change is damn hard. Transformation of the self isn't a war that's won, but an everyday battle to be kinder, to be more thoughtful, to have faith in one's very ability to transcend. Like I said, damn hard. 

And then there's tfile. Prayer. For those of us not so spiritually inclined, prayer can feel like the last thing bringing us closer to however we imagine divinity. Prayer is rote, it's boring, it's repetitive, it's full of praise for a theoretical entity about which I personally have very mixed feelings.

That leaves (some of) us with tsedoke. Again, the translation of tsedoke as charity is poor. Tsedoke really means righteousness or justice, as in צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף (Justice, justice shall you pursue.) Everyone's probably seen this quoted a million times. It comes from Dvarim (Deuteronomy), parshas Shoftim (Judges). Moses tells the Israelites that they shall have an impartial system of justice:

Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 

Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. 

Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 

But the justice we're concerned with during the Aseres Yemey Tshuve (ten days of repentance) is not the justice of magistrates and officials and ruling fairly over a place, (though it's appropriate that I'm writing this on Primary Day in New York City). During these days we're meditating (a little, I hope) on the ways that our gift of money, tsedoke, can encourage fairness, equality, access to education, or just the chance for a little human dignity.

There's no right or wrong way to do it. Different years I've had different approaches. Last year I gave a huge bag of clothes to a harm reduction organization in my neighborhood. Sometimes I've given money directly to homeless people. This year I have a couple of organizations in mind for donations. I thought I'd share with you, not to puff up my own charitable nature, khas v'sholem, but to give a little plug for what I think are, in their own ways, righteous enterprises.

WNYC. Public radio at its best.

Footsteps. A truly amazing organization that has helped so many young men and women transition out of the haredi world. I've personally seen how much good they're doing, and what an asset Footsteps is to the Jewish community as a whole.

YAFFED. YAFFED advocates for improved secular education in Hasidic schools. It's run by young people who have recently left the community and works to effect change from the inside. Truly inspiring stuff.

Those are my picks. To what or whom will you be giving?

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