Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof 

Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 16:20).


Coming here to write this morning is my prize. I set my alarm and got up at 5:30 to face down the stack of bills that has been growing on the kitchen counter. To log in to my online banking account, slice open the envelopes, sharpen my #2 pencil with a pink plastic pencil sharpener, get out my little calculator, and take my first sip of coffee. Wait, actually, the first sip of coffee proceeded all of that. But you get the idea.


I’ll receive my first paycheck tomorrow, and believe you me, I am not taking that, or the fact that I am gainfully employed, for granted. As I expected, working full-time in an office again, an office that is not my cozy home office, is proving to be an adjustment on many levels, one that I am fully embracing. Early yesterday afternoon, the computers were undergoing some kind of upgrade and so nothing I was working on was working. It was a gorgeous fall day, crisp and sunny and bright, so a new co-worker and I decided to take the opportunity to go for a quick walk up to Edmunds, where I delivered a bagel and cream cheese to Aviva for her to eat at her late-night (till 7:00pm) Very Merry Theater rehearsal. We walked briskly back down Main Street towards the office, talking about our new jobs, about kids and life and how we tend to take so much on ourselves. And while I’m grateful to know that I will receive 26 regular paychecks a year, I also had a moment of gratitude, of clearly seeing the bigger picture of how good work can brings more to our lives than money.

That said, I am so accustomed to having so much flexibility! To doing errands and seeing friends and cleaning my house, all in the midst of the workday. To being able to pay my bills where it’s actually light out. And no, even with tomorrow’s check on the way, I still can’t pay all of them today and will have to perform some financial martial arts in order to make sure we’re covered for another month.


And then there’s this: Everything will be ok. Trust remains my one-syllable mantra, as it has been for years.


Greg’s in Israel. His desert ride begins today, in 110-degree heat. Speaking of money, he raised over $4,000 in less than a month! People are generous, I tell you. I have a friend who is in the boat I was in recently, that so many people have come to know “in this economy,” the searching-for-gainful-employment boat. (Excuse me while I get on my soap-box for a moment but damn, it’s too crowded in there. I’d get started on Obama or something, but honestly don’t even know what to blame for the fact that life seems to continue becoming more and more difficult economically.) In any case, this writer had the audacity, or should I say chutzpah, to ask for help.

By the end of the day she had already received $1,000 in donations from friends and family who wanted to chip in while she continues her job search.


People are generous. This, I know. Think of 9/11, Katrina, good causes, tragedies, and even the more ordinary-seeming “Help, I’m struggling” call. According to Jewish tradition, tzedakah is required of all people, regardless of financial standing. Even the person with no money in her pockets has something to offer. You may know that this word, usually translated as “charity,” actually means righteousness. Its root is tzedek. Justice.

Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 16:20).

These words speak to the “basic human responsibility to reach out to others. Giving of your time and your money is a statement that ‘I will do whatever I can to help.'”

While Jews aren’t so big on saints, anyone can be a tzaddik, a righteous person, right here in this here-and-now world.


Am I struggling? Is struggle just a name, a label, a way of boxing ourselves in? Oy, it’s too early in the morning – just 6:10 now – for rhetoric. Aviva just came down wearing her new winter hat. Most school days, she stays in bed till after 7:00. But today, there’s no school and she gets to camp out at work with me. We’re both excited about it.

Do I need help? Good lord, we all need help. Maybe if I have a point, that’s it. Maybe we live in overlapping cycles of seeking and finding, of falling apart and coming together, of search and rescue. We see each other at pick-up and drop-off and in line at the grocery store and we exchange smiles that imply, “Yes, it’s a lot.” And we rarely get the chance to pause. To stop. To really check in. How are you? How can I help?

Writing is my prize this morning. Aviva coming down and sitting in my lap for a moment is my prize this morning. To have a few minutes to sit with myself, to say, “Good morning, myself. How are you?” When I don’t have a chance to check in, I tend to default to auto-pilot in so many ways.


So while my kitchen and bathrooms scream for a deep cleaning, and I need to start exercising on a regular basis again, and the bills still aren’t all paid, I give thanks and remember that helping someone else is always a prize, a way to step into gratitude and purpose when it is all too easy to see only what remains undone, unmade, and incomplete. Life is loose ends. Life is one big opportunity to pursue justice, to live. To give and to receive.

My new title at work is Membership Engagement Specialist. Yes, that’s right, it’s official: I’m a MES. How wonderfully fitting, to bring a light heart to what could be all heavy, all the time. Don’t forget to look up. Don’t forget to laugh.


And with that, the slightest hint of light in the morning sky, she went to take a shower and make the lunches and empty the dishwasher and begin again.

Image: Papercut by Archie Granot

5 thoughts on “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof 

  1. The Other Laura says:

    Jena, thank you for every syllable of this, which is exactly what I needed to hear this morning.

    Thank you for saying out loud that paying bills is a struggle. Sometimes when it is just me and the checkbook and the pile of bills, I feel very alone.

    Enjoy your day. Be a MES!


  2. Meg says:

    When we give and receive with joy the world spins. It never stops spinning and help is everywhere. One of the most powerful and beautiful lessons. so proud of you Jena.xox



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