Tzedakah – Charity
The world depends on three things: on Torah study, on the service of G-d, and on kind deeds. Ethics of the Fathers 1:2
What is the meaning behind the custom of giving gifts of money in multiples of 18 i.e. 18, 36, 54, 72, 90? Eighteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew word Chai – life. The Jewish custom of giving gifts in increments of 18, symbolically blesses the recipient of the gift with a good, long life. Multiples of 18 also express our prayer that the giver be blessed with life and prosperity.
In modern Judaism the term tzedakah refers to “giving to individuals in need.” The Torah is clear that we should show concern for the poor. Biblical laws instructing farmers to leave aside some of their crops during harvest for the landless, was the basis for our extensive social welfare system built on individual initiative and shared responsibility.
Communities of sufficient size created volunteer societies to care for the ill, provide for newlywed couples, house travelers, bury the dead, and offer interest-free loans to the needy. This tradition of grassroots organizing to assist those in need is still a distinguishing aspect of the continuity of Jewish communities.