That question probably crossed the minds of millions of Americans as they scrambled to meet the tax-filing deadline last week.

For some, it was a bitter thought: I work myself to the bone, and after the mortgage and the bills and money for the bare necessities to keep me working to the bone, the little that's left—the few dollars which I could have used for something that I want—goes to "the government"...

To others, it was a more positive notion: I contribute a relatively minor portion of our income, and in return, the government pays for our national defense and other vital services, funds scientific research and cultural institutions, and provides for the needy with a variety of programs—all things I would need to, or ought to, do myself...

We Jews also have a "tax" of sorts. We're speaking of course of tzedakah, commonly referred to as "charity" but which more precisely means "justice" and "righteousness." The Jewish attitude is that when we share our blessings with the needy, we are not being generous or charitable; rather, we are righting a wrong, correcting an imbalance in G‑d's world—an imbalance we believe G‑d created only because He desired that we should correct it.

In the words of the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers:

Rabbi Elazar of Bartosah would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His. As King David says (I Chronicles 29:14), "For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we have given to You."

It is significant that Rabbi Elazar doesn't simply say, "for everything that is yours is his," but rather, "for you, and everything that is yours, are His."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that one could take the Jewish concept of tzedakah to the opposite extreme, and think: In that case, I'm not really doing anything! After all, nothing is mine, and in passing along the requisite tzedakah, I'm simply doing my duty. There's no cause for me to feel that I accomplished anything, nor to derive any sense of satisfaction from the deed...

In truth, however, there is a "you," and there are things that are "yours." Both are a product of how the Creator configured His Creation, granting the human being free choice, self-awareness, and resources that are legally and morally his or hers. It is only that these are all part of a larger reality and a larger truth, in which it's all there to serve the divine purpose.

So when we give to the needy, our act of tzedakah has true moral and spiritual significance. We are giving of ourselves, out of a recognition that "ours" and "ourselves" are a subset of a greater truth. And this recognition itself is a true existential leap, a breaking free of the constraints of self to connect to the infinite reality of G‑d.