May 22, 2024

The Meaning of Compassion In Jewish Philanthropy

Two People Holding Hands as an Act of Compassion

Philanthropy and tzedakah, loving-kindness and compassion… These words represent just a few of many fundamental concepts ingrained in the Jewish faith. Halacha (Jewish law) places a strong emphasis on the value of giving back to others and making the world a better place.

This responsibility is known as ‘Tikkun Olam’ and is a Mitzvah (commandment) for everyone in our community. The better we collectively understand and appreciate the words used to describe it, the more we can actively fulfill it,

Let’s focus on the concept of compassion, unpack its unique importance, the real-world impact of giving, and the connection between community service and Jewish life.

What Does Compassion Mean?

Let’s start by giving our term of focus a definition. ‘Compassion’ is often used interchangeably with words like kindness, empathy, and sympathy, despite possessing its own unique meaning.

On the most basic level, compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for the suffering or misfortune of others. Derived from the Latin word ‘compati,’ which means ‘to suffer with,’ the foundation of this term lies in understanding and acknowledging the pain of others.

Compassion is a fundamental human emotion that connects us to one another and allows us to feel connected and empathetic toward those around us. It is the ability to see beyond ourselves, our own needs and desires, and truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. 

Compassion In the Jewish Tradition of Giving

Jewish beliefs about helping the poor and vulnerable are beautifully multifaceted and complex. 

Compassion goes hand-in-hand with the concepts of tzedakah and chesed, which respectively mean righteousness and kindness. Everyone is responsible for performing these mitzvot in their own unique way, and it is believed that helping the poor and those in need is one of the most significant ways to fulfill them.

Chabad rebbes throughout Jewish history have taught us that there are many ways to do good – Eight Degrees of Giving, in fact. Each level serves others in a unique way and ultimately brings us closer to G-d.

Compassion can manifest in any form, whether it’s donations to charities for the poor, emotional support for widows, or simply offering a kind word to a stranger. What makes these actions compassionate is the intention behind them – the desire to ease someone else’s suffering.

This is why our community is known for so many meaningful initiatives and prominent Jewish philanthropists. Youth are encouraged to help others just as much as adults, whether that’s signing up to volunteer for non-profit healthcare organizations and charities for orphans or using their rite of passage as an opportunity to fundraise for initiatives against hunger

Opportunities to Provide Compassion Every Day of the Year

The connection between Jewish holidays and charity is also worth noting. Many important events throughout the year are associated with a tradition of giving in some form. For example, tzedakah boxes are often present during Hanukkah, and Passover seders include a special ritual of giving to the poor.

But beyond these specific occasions, compassion is woven into everyday life in the Jewish community. It’s seen in small acts such as Bikur Cholim, the practice of visiting and bringing comfort to those who are sick, and in Ma’aser Kesafim, the act of regularly donating a portion of one’s income to charity.

How Compassion Benefits Everyone

In a world that often seems full of chaos and negativity, compassion acts as a beacon of hope and humanity. It reminds us that despite our differences, we are all ultimately the same – we all experience pain, struggle, and loss. The phrase ‘Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh‘ encapsulates the essence of compassion, reminding us that as humans, we have a responsibility to care for and support each other. It’s particularly meaningful now as Israel faces a state of crisis

This goes beyond the cultural value of Jewish charity; anyone and everyone can benefit by practicing compassion in their day-to-day life. For givers, it leads to increased feelings of happiness and fulfillment. The psychological benefits of giving are well-documented – scientists believe that when we help others, our brains release feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin. The resulting effect is comparable to a ‘helper’s high’ that can boost our overall well-being.

At the same time, recipients of charity also benefit greatly. In Judaism, giving is not seen as a one-way transaction. It is viewed as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships and create a sense of unity within the community. Supporting charitable organizations and other initiatives further enrich our society as we invest in the future.

Colel Chabad’s Compassion In Action

Israel has an extensive history of charitable organizations to its name, but none are as recognizable as Colel Chabad. Our non-profit was founded more than 200 years ago with the sole purpose of promoting a world envisioned by Chabad leaders as more compassionate and kind.

Today, we engage in a broad range of meaningful initiatives that promote the values of the Chabad movement in every aspect of Jewish society. These include:

Pantry Packers

The Pantry Packers program sees volunteers come together to pack food parcels for families across Israel. These parcels are then distributed to households living below the poverty line, ensuring they have access to nutritious meals.

Soup Kitchens

We operate a network of soup kitchens throughout Israel that provide hot meals to those who are unable to afford them.

Support Groups for Widows

A population desperately in need of but often denied compassion, widowed women can turn to Colel Chabad’s support networks for families in need as they process grief and navigate their lives without a partner. 

Daycare Centers

Our daycare centers provide safe and nurturing environments for children from low-income families. We believe that every child deserves to have access to quality early childhood education, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

Engage In This Jewish Charity Tradition with Colel Chabad

While there are many in Israel, Colel Chabad is the best Jewish charity to give to when looking to make a real impact on the lives of those in need. Every contribution is used to deliver compassion, hope, and support in some shape or form.

Prayers and blessings are undoubtedly important practices in Judaism, but taking action and helping those in need is equally crucial. Whether you prefer to donate funds, volunteer your time and resources, or simply spread the word about our work, getting involved with Colel Chabad is a meaningful way to honor the Jewish tradition of charitable giving.

You can easily make compassion a part of your everyday life. Get started today. 


Yizkor Donation

בַּעֲבוּר שֶׁבְּלִי נֶדֶר אֶתֵּן צְדָקָה