Shabbat reminds us of the awesome work of creation and the potential holiness of daily life. Traditionally, Shabbat begins with tzedakah ("righteous" charitable giving). Before lighting candles and entering the seventh day, we help "create the world" by sharing our bounty with others.
The Shefa Fund has published "Seven Tzedakah Ideas for Shabbat," with seven tzedakah ideas inspired by Shabbat rituals. By using these ideas as a springboard for your own creativity, you can turn your pushke (tzedakah box) into a source of Jewish learning and social action.
1. Mikveh and Handwashing Some Jews go to the mikveh (ritual bath) before Shabbat, and many wash their hands and recite blessings before eating. Judaism associates purification and holiness with free-flowing waters. The Torah itself was referred to by the sages of Israel as mayim hayim, living waters.
Give tzedakah to environmental stewardship: water and wetland preservation, renewable energy development and campaigns for corporate environmental responsibility.
2. Candlelighting Lighting Shabbat candles is one of only three rituals that Jewish tradition assigns to women. The response of Jewish feminists to this meager portion has not been to turn our backs, but to use candle lighting as a core ritual of an expanded Jewish women's culture.
Direct tzedakah toward cultivating the heat and light of feminism.
3. Blessing Children "Each child," says a Yiddish proverb, "carries her own blessing into the world." We affirm this on Shabbat by pausing, as soon as candles are lit, so children can be blessed by their elders.
Use tzedakah to cultivate the unique blessing of each child: to lift kids out of poverty and abuse, to teach diversity and human rights in school, to honor each child as a living bearer of Torah.
4. Wine and Challah The wine we bless and drink for Shabbat represents the joys of this abundant world, which our tradition urges us to use and not abuse. The bread we bless and eat embodies the partnership with God – and with a vast network of other human beings – by which we put food on our table.
Tzedakah to alleviate hunger is the most obvious and necessary response to these Shabbat symbols: direct aid as well as activism to bring abundance to everybody's table.
5. Sexual Union To come together in loving union on Shabbat is a mitzvah (blessing). Certain Torah portions notwithstanding, Jewish tradition encourages sexual expression as long as the spirit is one of love and devek (unity).
Use tzedakah to support sex education and family planning; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activism; and freedom of expression in the arts.
6. Torah Study Which is superior, our rabbis ask, study or action? Best of all, they conclude, is a synthesis: study that leads to action. Shabbat embodies this synthesis, as we study Torah, ideally in a communal setting, and prepare our minds and hearts for the mitzvah of tzedakah.
Give tzedakah for education to complete the circle, particularly projects that cultivate and honor the whole human being, not just his or her test scores.
7. Community Jewish communities come to life throughout Shabbat, as we try to look beyond the veil of individualism. On Shabbat, the fuller realities of our interconnectedness and mutual responsibility emerge through songs, prayers, and a rededication to social activism.
Make investments in community development banks, loan funds, and credit unions, and support projects that build partnerships and seek to "share the wealth" through equitable taxation, living wages, and curbed corporate welfare.