While we all look forward to Chanukah, it can represent a challenging time for parents. Specifically, when our children come to expect (dare I say, demand?) presents.

AgainstChanukah can represent a challenging time for parents our better judgement—and our promise never to utter our own parents’ oft-repeated words—we may find ourselves telling our children, “You’re so lucky to be Jewish. You get gifts for eight days!”

Hopefully, we can all agree that our kids are blessed to be Jewish for many reasons other than the possibility of eight days of presents. Though there is nothing wrong with gift-giving all year round, the tradition on Chanukah is actually not to give gifts, but rather give gelt (and I don’t mean the chocolate kind, although we all love that, too).

Gelt means “money” in Yiddish, and the Chanukah custom is to give gelt to children. In our home and many others, we give our children gelt every night of Chanukah, and we increase the amount on the fifth night of Chanukah, as per the custom of the Chabad Rebbes.

The question is why? What is the difference between giving our children money, or a bike or scooter? Isn’t that what the money would be used for anyway? Plus, we certainly don’t want to embark on a shopping spree with the children at this time of year!

I have a friend who related the following anecdote. When his son was 2, he took him to a Jewish doctor. For whatever reason, during the visit the doctor went through his pocket and pulled out a dollar bill. Immediately, the child pointed to it and said, “tzedakah (‘charity’)!”

The doctor later related to the parent: “Since the day I saw that your child’s concept of money is tzedakah, my entire view of money changed.” Talk about a financial education!

We give gelt on Chanukah in order to teach our children about tzedakah, often translated as “charity,” but better translated as “righteousness” or “uprightness.”

Moreover, tzedakah is uniquely connected to the lesson of the holiday of Chanukah. During the time that the Land of Israel was under the dominion of the Syrian Greek Empire, Jews fought to preserve their commitment to the Torah as G‑d’s wisdom—and not just a text with great cultural, moral and philosophical worth. A primary message that the Torah introduces to the world is that G‑dliness is inseparable from the physical world.

Money is the epitome of physicality and can be absolutely self-serving. The connection of money to G‑d, its Source, is so concealed that we may easily assume that the money that we make is rightfully ours.

But the Torah teaches us to view money distinctly differently. Money is actually a clear—if not the clearest—example of the inseparability of the physical world from G‑d, its Source. Not only is money not “rightfully ours,” but G‑d entrusts us with money to better His world in the ways that He prescribes. By giving tzedakah from our money, we reveal the G‑dliness inherent in money. Thus, we fulfill our mandate to reveal the essential unity of G‑d and His world.

Therefore, on Chanukah we give gelt. Not because of the dollar bills per se, but likeMoney is elevated through the mitzvah of tzedakah the story of the child and the doctor because of what that money represents.1 After we give our children gelt, we immediately help them separate a minimum of 10 percent from the money and designate it to charity, as mandated by Jewish law. Our children thus learn from a very young age that money is elevated through the mitzvah of tzedakah. Or, like my friend’s child, that money’s inherent purpose and raison d’être is tzedakah.

For added fun, we can play some math trivia with our kids, showing them that the gematria (numerical value) of the words Nes Chanukah (the “miracle of Chanukah”) and the gematria of tzedakah are the same: 199, hinting at the spiritual connection between Chanukah and tzedakah.

Similarly, the word “Chanukah” is connected to the Hebrew word for “education,” chinuch.

So if you’re thinking of what to gift your children this season in lieu of another toy or gadget, consider gelt, and with it, the gift of a Jewish financial education.

Happy Chanukah!