Traditionally, you empty your pockets before Shabbat begins because you don't carry things outside on Shabbat. It can also be a way to mark the change from the week just as putting aside your briefcase or daily planner shows that Shabbat is not part of the world of work. A wallet, office keys, coins, a pen put away in a drawer are ways to leave the week behind as we make the transition to Shabbat.
Taking the loose change and giving to tzedakah by depositing it in a pushka, a collection container, before Shabbat became a tradition because money is not used or even touched on Shabbat. It is also an acknowledgment that our Shabbat is only partly real; the rest is a dream. For despite our resting on Shabbat, the world does not get to rest. Despite our enjoying the pleasure of good food, there are those in the world who have no food. In the Garden of Eden, our food was just there waiting to be plucked. We try to re-enter the garden on Shabbat, but we can only partially return.
Manna no longer falls from heaven. We need to work at it. We can only make Shabbat as garden-like as possible in an imperfect world. Similarly, before we begin Shabbat, we acknowledge the imperfection of the world – a world of poverty and oppression – by giving to tzedakah. Finally, by giving to tzedakah, we are opening our hearts to others and therefore readying our hearts to be open to the spirit of Shabbat.
From A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice by Michael Strassfeld (Schoken, 2002).
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