Judaism is very realistic about money and business. It knows that much of our daily lives are involved with money. And so, just like waking up, just like eating, and just like speaking, there is a religious way to act with money, a religious way to do business. Jewish laws and traditions concerning treatment of the poor, widows, orphans, travelers, and others in need, grew directly from biblical commands. The Bible repeatedly expresses the obligation to help those who, for whatever reason, could not help themselves.
In fact, (1) the Gospels and (2)the the largest of the four sections in the classic text of halacha, the Shukhan Arukh [Code of Jewish Law, by Rabbi Yosef Caro], is about business.
The Israelites were to care for the traveler or alien in the land because they had once been “strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). They were to promote justice for the needy because “I, the Lord, love justice” (Isa. 61:8; Psa. 146:7). They were to help those who could not sustain themselves because God “supports the orphan and the widow” (Psa. 146:9).
Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.
To go even further, the Talmud tells us that the first question we will be asked at the Heavenly Court will be: “Did you conduct your business affairs in a fair manner?”
• Helping the poor and needy is a duty in Judaism
• The obligation to first give to local charities is derived from Devarim 15:7: “If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother.
• Jews are among the most generous donors to charities
• Jews do not limit their generosity to Jewish charities
• Jewish teachers developed extensive guidelines concerning charitable giving, for instance Rambam organized ways of doing tzedakah by their level of merit.
• There is a story told of Rabbi Hillel who aided a man who had once been rich. Hillel provided him with a horse and a runner to go before him, because the man was accustomed to such things and so had “need” of them. When Hillel could not afford to hire a runner, he did so himself.
Besides direct financial help by individuals, a variety of other aids to the needy developed, much of it undertaken by the community. Rural communities practiced the biblical commands to leave for the needy the corners of the field, the gleanings of the grain, and the forgotten produce (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21).
MODERN JUDAISM and TODAY
Each community establish communal charity funds for the relief of the needy. Food and clothing were and are also available in most Jewish communities. Communal “soup kitchens” were and are open to anyone who did not have enough to eat two meals a day. Community collections provide a dowry and trousseau for brides who were and are orphans or whose family was poor. In later centuries Jewish relief societies called chevra assumed many of these communal obligations.
The bottom line is this: to be religious Jews, we are not supposed to isolate ourselves on a mountaintop and meditate, nor are we to take vows of poverty — rather, we are supposed to get out into the world, interact with it, and elevate the mundane. This, in fact, is the traditional meaning of “tikkun olam.” We repair the world by elevating it to the holy.
And, yes, that includes money. Money, like other items such as oil, are simply tools. These are tools which can be used for good or for bad.
For starters: give tzedakah, helping to fund research or scholarships, to build schools, and so forth.
Remember Shabbat one of the great institutions in all the world, it’s about creating a very special time – a time for not only rest but Spiritual Elevation – Holiness – Connection with G-d and your fellow man (and woman, of course) and spiritual ideals – to come into your life.