Tzedakah Roundtable: The 2019 Tzedakah Roundtable which will be held on Friday, March 29th! This is where our kids – each class as a collective – decide where to give the tzedakah money they’ve been bringing in each Friday throughout the year. Schechter Manhattan parents are encouraged to talk through the activity booklet with your child(ren) and to help your child(ren) prioritize among the four organizations included. Please click here for the Tzedakah Roundtable Activity Booklet.
Celebrating by giving to others: The Tzedakah Roundtable
By Rabbi Joshua Rabin, Schechter Manhattan parent
Megillat Esther is a study in opposites, how the established order can become upside down, whether that includes Mordecai being paraded through the street carried by Haman or Mordecai ultimately taking Haman’s former position at the story’s conclusion. As a result, it is notable to read Megillat Esther and see the way in which the story reverses how the Persians choose to celebrate at the story’s beginning versus how the Jews of Shushan celebrate at the story’s end.
In the first chapter, we are told that King Ahasuerus held a banquet for all of the officials in his kingdom. At the banquet, “Royal wine was served in abundance, as befits a king, in golden beakers of varied design. And the rule for drinking was, “No restrictions!””, because Ahasuerus, “had given orders to every palace steward to comply with each man’s wishes” (Esther 1:4-5, 7-8).
The banquet is notable for lavishness and decadence, yet the results are tragic. King Ahasuerus expels Queen Vashti from his palace in haste, and the incident eventually leads to the emergence of Haman as Ahasuerus’ most trusted advisor, an appointment that puts the Jewish people in grave danger. As a result, the way in which the Persian people choose to celebrate at the story’s beginning is a lavish banquet of food and drink that ultimately puts the Jewish community’s survival at risk.
In contrast, we see a very different description of the way in which the Jews of Shushan celebrate their survival in the face of danger in the ninth chapter. In this instance, the text states (emphasis mine):
“Mordecai…sent dispatches to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus, near and far, charging them to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar, every year—the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another (mishloakh manot) and gifts to the poor (matanot l’evyonim)” (Esther 9:20-23).
When the roles are reversed, and the Jews are the ones who are to celebrate their fortune and survival, they were mandated not simply to have a party, but to give gifts to one another, and to the most vulnerable amongst them. As a result, Purim establishes a new definition for what it means to celebrate, where caring for the most vulnerable amongst us is not only an obligation, but a means of celebration.
Once a year, each class at Schechter Manhattan has the opportunity to allocate the tzedakah they’ve collected each Friday throughout the year. Classes learn about tzedakah, about giving money to support different organizations, and how to make choices about why and where to give. Each class will make its own decision about where to give, and that class’s tzedakah money is donated based on the class’s decision.
This year, the four organization from which children can choose are The Water Project, Rainforest Conservation, Innovation:Africa, and Hand in Hand. Each of you received a copy of a family study guide last week that you can use with your children to help them decide where money should be allocated. Do not forget for your child to bring their priority back to school by Monday, March 25, 2019.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg writes in The Jewish Way that, “Purim…is a classic example of how to serve God in affluence and pleasure, just as Jews once served primarily in poverty” (249). Purim reminds us what it means to means to be victorious and comfortable, not using that state of affairs to show off our riches and needlessly waste our blessings of plenty, but to use that state of plenty as a means of bettering the lives of others. And when we teach our children to do this, we succeed living out Purim’s message of justice as celebration.
All the rest is commentary. Go and study.