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Tzedakah Facilitates Love’s Presence Among Us

Mar 25, 2012 by American Jewish World Service  | 

A truly conceptual and artistic response, Cheselyn Amato’s submission explores tzedakah through Jewish mysticism.

Please briefly describe your design:

My submission is in the “out of the box” category, and at this point of development, conceptual and exploratory. The work is in the form of photomontage. I am working in a visual poetical manner to embodying the idea of tzedakah via several Jewish mystical concepts including The Tree of Life in the Four Worlds. I will not go into much detail here about these concepts. Briefly, the four worlds include: Atzilut (Emanation/Nearness/Spirit/Fire); Beriah (Creation/Mind/Intellect/Air); Yetzirah (Formation/Heart/Emotion/Water); and Assiyah (Action/World/Earth). The multi-spectral column that is poised centrally in all the images represents the possibility of tzedakah, that it can “happen” at any time in any dimension - from the most phenomenal, tangible, and material to the most numinous, intangible, and immaterial. Let’s consider the idea of six degrees of separation and begin to broaden our awareness that every action made with “tzedakah intention” adds to a concrete expression of tzedakah happening somewhere. Tzedakah becomes the result of a flow and interchange and exchange. So many of the great Chasidic stories show us that we cannot always see or know where “it” comes from. Sometimes, the redemption - the coin - comes from the most unexpected source.

How does your design reimagine the future of giving? How will your design spark a national conversation about the obligation to give, where to give, to whom and why?

What a wonderful exploration to be making at this time in human global history. Finding myself unexpectedly and far from any predictions I would have ever made about my circumstances, I am not in a position to give as substantially as I would prefer in a monetary way, and so to believe in my capacity to be a contributor in this world, I have been revisiting that question in a very personal way.

There is such an emphasis in Judaism on giving, and literally in the Torah there is so much about gold, silver, and copper, and other materials – organic and inorganic of value, and there is also much said about degrees and kinds of giving – the notions of give how much you can, sliding scales, substitution of something else, pay later and someone covers your portion are a few ways giving is introduced in the Torah. Giving can take the form of non-material, non-monetary contribution – intangible forms of giving can be called volunteering, exchange through in-kind service, paying fees in the form of service, extending mental and intellectual creativity to solve problems and inventing the vehicles for the successful giving of others, serving flow and healing in the world through kind thought, word, feeling and deed – these are all forms of active giving.

All in all we can say that when we are in the spirit of giving and contributing without a focus on personal gain but on performance of concrete actions, the locked-in sparks that keep people from feeling whole, well, hopeful, interested, engaged, and satisfied are liberated. This is the core idea of tikkun olam, healing of the world. This is a commitment to the restoration of wholeness and the reparation of the broken vessels, a beautiful concept in mystical Judaism. Tzedakah is an absolute commitment to liberating whatever keeps each and everyone of us from living with joy.

I see the tzedakah “box” more as a blueprint than a literal singular holder of physical money. Yes, there must be a hard cash collection component – for coins, bills, checks, dividends, shares, and written commitments of financial support. And, there are also four other components to this holistic tzedakah “commitment bank” shall we say, a place where we seal our commitment to the contracts and covenants we make. So, in addition to the money slot, we have unpaid work or tzedakah in the mystical four worlds that includes: the slot in the portion that collects all the actions we do with our hands and bodies; and a slot for all the heart, compassion, generosity and mercy that we apply on an emotional and psychological level; a slot in the portion for all of the mind that we exercise to develop and apply knowledge for the design and construction of beneficial concepts, things, places, and systems; and a slot in the portion for all of the spirit that reminds of us that if the Red Sea parted, so too shall whatever obstacles we encounter

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