In the southern hemisphere, the academic year roughly corresponds to the calendar year, which means September/October is when we consider applications for our family’s Jewish school education grant scheme. Last year, our family meeting to review all applications was scheduled for the day after Yom Kippur, and as I read the words of the Unetanneh Tokef, my mind drifted to the task that awaited me the very next day.
During the Unetanneh Tokef prayer at musaf on the High Holydays, we read the awe-inspiring words “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed … who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched …”
On this holiest of days, God was sitting in judgment and deciding who will live or die, be rich or poor, and so on. The very next day, I would sit down with family members and review some fifty-odd grant applications and make important decisions that will directly affect these families: who will receive and grant and who will not, and how much the successful applicants will receive. Our decisions are, for these families, some small part of what God has planned for them for the coming year. I was struck by this awkward juxtaposition.
I felt an odd mix of self-importance, responsibility, humility and inadequacy. After all, what qualifies us to do this? Essentially that our family is blessed. I don’t view this as an accident of birth or ‘good luck’. Rather, that God has chosen us to be His agents for delivering tzedakah to people in need. Because we choose to do this allocation ourselves, we have the additional responsibility to learn about best practice in the areas we chose to give. Further, I felt it important to use the tzedakah experience to connect with God. How might we do this in practice?
Kabbalah teaches that when we make a bracha – a blessing – before an activity, we draw down the spiritual energy associated with that particular activity. For example, the blessing made before eating acknowledges where the food came from, and helps us be more present and mindful in the activity of eating. In the same way, before a grantmaking session, it’s appropriate to reflect on what we are about to do.
And thus I composed the grantmaker’s prayer:
Master of the Universe – You sit in judgment each year and decide our fate, and in particular You allocate material wealth. I thank You for bestowing upon me both the privilege and responsibility to be Your agent to redistribute that wealth to those in need. Please grant me the wisdom and insight to make the right decisions for these families – both to grant and not to grant – so that I might be able to maximise the effectiveness of our grant program to improve the lives and Jewish educational outcomes for these families.
You can think of it as a prayer, a blessing, or a meditation. It’s something worth thinking about for a few minutes before undertaking the very important task of giving tzedaka. We complete the triangle of God, the giver, and the recipient. We can call this ‘mindfulness of giving.’
This was also posted at [eJewishPhilanthropy].