An excerpt from Beth Huppin’s inspirational Covenant Award acceptance speech:
“The generous people who had fed the poor at their table should be buried in a coffin made of the boards of that table, as it is said in Isaiah 58:8: : v’halach l’fanecha tzidkecha ‘And your tzedakah shall go before you.’” (kitzur shulchan aruch 199:1)
According to this text, our tzedakah, represented here by how we treat others at our table, will go before us into the next word. Treating others with compassion and kindness is all that really matters in our lives since that is what will accompany and define us for all eternity.
The purpose of Jewish education is to help our students understand and act upon this. Kind, generous behavior must be the topic of every lesson, no matter what the subject. Every day. Mizvot bein adam l’chavairo – between people – are obviously about how we treat others. Mitzvot bein adam l’makom – between people and God – are, in the words of my teacher, Rabbi Ira Stone, opportunities to interrupt our inevitable self-absorption and to remember our obligations to others. We fast on Yom Kippur – not to impress God, but because fasting reminds us that others are hungry and we must feed them. We sit in a sukkah not just because God tells us to, but because it reminds us that others are still homeless and we must help them. We study creation and learn that the first human was not of any specific religion or color so that we will know that all human beings – not just the ones who look or think like us – are made in God’s image, that all human beings are infinitely precious and that all have the potential to be the beginning of an entire world.
To read the rest of Beth’s speech, click here.