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Pushka Power

Pushka Power


What makes a Jewish house Jewish? Well, there's a mezuzah on the doorpost. Books of Jewish wisdom on the shelves. Guests are welcome, and when a needy soul knocks on the door, he doesn't go away empty handed.

And then there's a little box or tin can sitting on a counter somewhere. Every day, a little spare change gets dropped in there, plus a few more coins just before Shabbat. When it's full, it goes to a good cause, whichever the family chooses.

It could be there's a top-of-the-line entertainment system in this house. Maybe a leading edge computer. Along with many expensive appliances and gadgets. But none have as great an impact on people's lives, fill the house with as much meaning and add as much beauty as the pushka (Yiddish for "little box").

There are, of course, other ways to give charity. What's so special about the pushkah?

More Action

"How often," said the 12th century sage Maimonides, "is more important than how much."

Why? Because when you write a check for $365, a good cause gets another $365. But give a dollar every day for 365 days -- and your hand becomes a giving hand. As an anonymous Jewish sage wrote, "A person is more influenced by the things he does than by the knowledge he is taught."

So if you want to pick yourself up, get into some elevated habits. Like dropping coins in a box.

Holy Space

And it's not just you -- your pushka will pick up your living space as well. "A charity box in a home or office," the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, "redefines the entire space. It is no longer just a home, just an office. It is a center of kindness and caring."

That is why the Rebbe suggested making a pushka box a permanent fixture of your home or office. Affix it to a wall. Or more correctly: Affix your house to it.

Elevated Moments

Then there's your time. Time needs to be elevated, too. One action elevates the time in which it was done. Many actions -- even if they're small actions -- elevate so many more moments. That's why the Baal Shem Tov taught, "Don't let a day go by without its own act of giving."

The Kabbalists call this, "elevating time, space and person." Or you could just call it, "making a better world."

Don't Give Charity

Charity, everyone knows, means being a nice guy and giving your money to someone with less. That's why, in Jewish tradition, we never give charity. It's unheard of.

Because everyone knows that whatever we have doesn't really belong to us to begin with. We are no more than treasurers, our sages taught, and everything that comes through our hands is given us in order to use it for good things. Like educating our kids. Like nourishing our body with kosher and healthy food. And like giving it to people who are short on what they need.

That's why, in Jewish tradition, we call it "giving tzedakah." Tzedakah means "doing the right thing." Putting your stuff where it really belongs. That's where your money will reap you the most benefit and bring you the most good -- because that's where it's meant to be.

It's an Old Obsession

Since we left the oppression of ancient Egypt, the Jewish people have been obsessed with the act of charity. When, in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Julian ordered the setting up of hostels for transients in every city, he referred to the example of the Jews "in whose midst no stranger goes uncared for." Historical records from every era, wherever there were Jews, provide long lists of societies -- free loan funds, soup kitchens, wedding funds, widow funds, orphan care, new mother care, free education and much more. There wasn't a Jew who wasn't either giving or getting -- and often both.

Today, when Jewish values have been universally adopted, Jews continue to give more to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes than the rest of the population. Giving tzedakah is one of the things we are most proud of.

Do It Yourself

If you don't have a pushka yet, you can make your own. All you need is a box or can of any material -- tin, wood, cardboard, whatever -- with a slot in the top for the insertion of coins. We suggest you print the following instructions and use them as a label:

How to use this Device for Full Empowerment:

● Place strategically for maximum exposure in office and/or home.

● Get habitual. Get obsessed. Each day, deposit a few coins in device. Make this awesome act the core event of your day. Every day. (Except Shabbat and Yom Tov, when handling money is forbidden).

● Once device is full, choose a worthy cause. Call them for further instructions.

Note: Best when supplemented with random acts of kindness beyond reason.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (17)
May 8, 2016
Re: Using notes instead of coins
Certainly! Even a note to yourself that you owe such-and-such an amount of money—as long as you pay it up when you give the money in the box to a charity..
Tzvi Freeman
May 8, 2016
Using notes instead of coins
Can one deposit notes in place of coins especially in a society where coins are not in circulation.
Owerri, Nigeria
April 12, 2015
Re: prayer when depositing money
Interestingly, there isn't.

I recall the Rebbe addressing this question once. He explained that if there were some prayer or blessing to say before giving, it would only delay the poor person who is in need right now. Who knows what might happen to him while he's waiting for you to finish all your prayers and blessings?

I suppose you could apply a similar line of thinking to the tzedakah box: If you knew there was a whole prayer and blessing you had to say, you might feel you don't have time for all that right now and not give anything. Better to make giving as easy and natural as possible.
Tzvi Freeman
April 7, 2015
Is there a prayer you can say when depositing money into your pushke?
October 28, 2012
Tsdaka is not charity
Charity is love. It means I give because I feel loving. Tsdaka is justice. It means my money belongs to Gd and I am only an agent for distributing it where it is needed. Yes, some for me to survive on, and to learn Torah with--but 10% already belongs to the needy, and if I don't give it, I'm stealing. It's not mine to keep or to give. It's Gd's, and I have a DUTY to donate it, whether I feel loving or not. It needs to be a habitual requirement, like bathing every morning, rather than something I only do when I"m feeling generous. It's not about my feelings. It's about GD's Will. Does that help?
Columbus, Ohio
July 15, 2012
Re: Tzedaka vs Charity
Tzedaka is from the Hebrew word "tzedek," which means "righteousness," as in "Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue…"

So tzedaka then means to do what is right. That's why, when Jewish communities were autonomously self-governed by rabbis, those who did not contribute to the communal funds for the needy would be penalized accordingly.

Interestingly, it seems that this understanding of tzedaka may well be the origin of the modern concept of state welfare, as first iterated by John Locke.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Thornhill, Ontario
July 13, 2012
Tzedaka vs Charity
I'm not Jewish but am inspired by this article to get a Pushka. However, I don't understand the quote below from the article. I mean no disrespect and very much would appreciate any clarification of the difference between Tzedaka and charity,

''Charity, everyone knows, means being a nice guy and giving your money to someone with less. That's why, in Jewish tradition, we never give charity. It's unheard of.''
Chicago, IL
June 20, 2010
Thank you Rabbi -
we can all learn and grow from your traditions.
A beautiful custom for all to adopt.
a non-Jewish friend
columbia, md
September 19, 2009
My puske burned up in a housefire!
and my kids are sad! My kids are not even Jewish, but I practice it alone. This was the high point of our meals (besides eating, of course!)

I got started because of you, Rabbi! Now to begin again!
July 3, 2009
Thank you for the first step. So easy! Can't help but do it.
Alice Nelson