Giving is integral to being Jewish. The period of time we are beginning now is a special time where we talk and deal with giving, making donations, investing in doing good, it enforces our Judaism, makes it present in our lives, our families lives, our congregations’ and anyone who happens to be around us.
We begin the time of conscious giving with the reading of this week’s portion of the Torah, Truma, Contribution. It opens with a demand to Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. This is the contribution which you are to]raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece.” These donations will be used for the construction of the first public facility of the Jewish people, a fund raising effort where everyone, women and men alike, give material, put in work, and inspired devotion. It is maybe the first time, but certainly not the last.
This period of giving also extends two of our festivals that involve also giving. Purim, so we learn, became “a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” In the Hagadah of Passover we read together at the table, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover.”
It is here that we learn of a fundamental difference between the two festivals. In Purim we go outwards, we give things to some and get things from others. It is expected to give and get from friends. However, giving gifts to the poor is giving without an expectation for a gift in return. Passover is a different story entirely. Here we must state that we are willing to feed any person in need on that day and welcome them into our homes. He does not have to be our friend, she does not need to be poor, they just have to feel that they have a need to be with us on Seder night.
When we call on them to join us to the table we also say, “This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.” These are words of hope not only to those who are giving but also for those who are of need to receive. It does not matter what our or their state or status is right now, we believe that next year will be better. The promise to be in the Land of Israel is a promise to be led into the Promised Land, a promise to be freed from the shackles of slavery and enslavement and be set free.
We therefore have here three kinds of contributions. Those which go to benefit everyone, those which are meant to better the situation of the needy, and the last, the ability to integrate the disadvantaged of society into our communities. Each has a place in this time of year between the beginning of the months of Adar and until our rejoicing our personal forever given personal freedom. We must take care of structures for the public, may they be physical buildings like synagogues, study rooms, a building for our Mekhina or summer camp, or a structure meant to provide for needs that are catered for by the likes of our very own Israel Reform Action Center (IRAC). We must never forget the need to look outwards to the communities we live in and give to those of need, not only to the poor but also to those who may be facing the immense forces of government that ignores his or her needs.
We also must be able to integrate into our society, into our communities and into our congregations especially those whom our society brushes aside, facing new horizons while letting them sink behind its back. Such people may be those who live among us with various mental or physical challenges and disabilities, converts who are rejected by a cold hearted religious establishment, and more. In this period of giving we must think of everyone, especially those who are not in the limelight, the women who some may wish not to see in the public sphere, the groups, the men and women who do not get a fair share of the right to pursue happiness in our society. When by the end of this period we say “Kol Dichfin”, “Whoever”, we must really mean everyone, we must tune in for all of them.
As members of the Reform Movement we feel a commitment to Tikkun Olam. This period of giving gives us an opportunity to do so on a personal basis, a congregational basis or at the Movements’ level. We have a large toolbox which we should use so that we can be successful and effective in doing so. We call upon each and every one to give as much as our heart moves us so that we can build structures from the foundations to the very top, that is based on our ability to open our eyes and see what is really happening out there, and to be able to change what is happening around us so that we can be blessed, “next year we will be free people”.
Reuven Marko, 16 February 2018, 2 Adar, 5778