Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dvar Torah For Vayakheil: Jewish Generosity

This week's Torah portion deals with the building of the Tabernacle and its vessels.
And Moses spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: 'This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying: Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD, whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, the LORD'S offering: gold, and silver, and brass; and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair; and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia-wood; and oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense; and onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate. (Exodus 35:4-9)
This offering is voluntary, coming from "whosoever is of a willing heart". Will the Jewish people reveal enough generosity to contribute what is needed?

Growing up in New Jersey, I went to a regular public school. Sometimes I would hear jokes about the Jews from my non-Jewish classmates. I still remember a few of these jokes. Here's a Jewish joke of the holocaust genre:
What's the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn't scream when you put it in the oven."
Did you laugh? I don't find this funny at all. As I child I was hurt when I heard such stupidity.

But most of the Jewish jokes I heard portrayed the Jews as stingy people that just love money. This is very far from the truth. Judaism teaches that This World is only a corridor to The World To Come. In This World money is just a means to do good, one of many, and certainly not a goal in and of itself. After one dies the good deeds that he did will go with him to The World To Come. The wealth that he accumulated for himself will not. Therefore our sages said that one should spend a minimal amount of time making a livelihood and spend as much time as possible learning Torah. In spite of this the "money hungry Jew" stereotype exists and gave rise to jokes like this:
How do you drive a Jew crazy? Put him in a round room and tell him that there is a penny in the corner.
This depiction of a Jew did not describe anyone that I knew. But the people who told these jokes and laughed at them were apparently convinced that the stereotype was accurate.

The answer to the question that I asked earlier is also the answer to people that harbor such evil prejudices:
And all the wise men, that wrought all the work of the sanctuary, came every man from his work which they wrought. And they spoke unto Moses, saying: 'The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.' And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying: 'Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.' So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.(Exodus 36:4-7)
The Torah testifies to the generosity of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel contributed more than what was needed for the building of the Tabernacle. A stroll around Jerusalem also testifies to the generosity of the Jewish people. The yeshivot, hospitals, university campuses etc. that you see were built with the financial help of Jews from around the world. "Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee?.."(Deuteronomy 33:29). As for the jokers:
The wicked shall return to the nether-world, even all the nations that forget God.(Psalms 9:18)

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