WISE Giving and CONFUSED Priorities

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Coins In Hands

“The entire assembly of the Children of Israel left Moshe’s presence. Every man, whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of HaShem for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred vestments.”

What happened? Didn’t the Torah previously report that Moshe appealed for free will offerings from the entire community, not just the rich? The Ohr HaChayim notes that after Moshe’s appeal the “entire assembly of the Children of Israel left Moshe’s presence,” as one, excited, united and enthusiastic group eager to do all that Moshe requested. So, what happened between all leaving as one, and the return of the few?

Everyone loves a great speech. Everyone came to hear a passionate appeal from non other than Moshe Rabeinu. When the oratory was completed, many left and only the ish remained; the nediv lev, the truly committed and thoughtful, only they stayed on to follow through on all that was heard. There is frequently a great gap between good will and positive implementation. Many good intentions evaporate before they are ever actualized. True, many heard Moshe’s sincere appeal. Many were truly willing, excited and uplifted by all that was said. By the time they made their way home and began reflecting on what they would have to give up in order to fulfill their obligations, many had second thoughts. “They were no longer carried by their hearts; they were stultified by their pockets.”

Chazal teach that the contributions for building the Mishkan were to serve as atonement for the making of the golden calf. For example, the “earrings and every kind of gold ornaments” contributed to the Mishkan, were to atone for the “gold earrings” that gilded the Egel. If that is the case, the Yerushalmi wonders, how can we possibly understand that only the nediv lev, the wise hearted, those whose hearts “lifted them up” contributed for the Miskan’s construction, whereas for the golden calf va’yitparku kol ha’am, everyone contributed? Is this possible? Are we looking at the first classic case of communal mistaken priorities?

Rav Meir Shapiro, revered Rosh Yeshiva and energetic fund raiser of the pre-holocaust Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, points to a painfully mistaken notion repeated by well intentioned givers throughout the ages. Then and now, fiery, emotionally appealing appeals are made for a variety of causes luring potential contributors to believe that their generosity will help sustain and maintain entities critically needed for a vibrant community. Well intentioned donors give, some even beyond their means. The campaign is over. Full page ads announce the campaign’s results; how much was collected, how the funds were allocated, all the contributors by giving category and in many cases the starting date of next year’s campaign. At that point, the more insightful among the givers begin to soul search about what really happened to their funds. Many disappointingly discover that there are wide gaps between the campaign noises and the realities of how the funds are spent. To their great chagrin is now seems, that there are great disparities between the collector’s seemingly convincing story and what ultimately happened to my hard earned dollars. It happens now, and it happened then.

An entire anxious community contributes heavily and generously to the making of the Egel HaZahav. The convincing campaign literature leads them to believe that their funds are needed to guarantee the future of klal yisrael, appeals we also hear and read about all the time. They were assured that eleh eloeacha yisrael – “This is your god, O Israel,” just as we too are media blitzed about organizations and institutions proclaiming that without their vital work klal yisrael is in jeopardy. Many would not even imagine that a golden calf would result from their funds. They were under the false impression that they were contributing for the spiritual future of the Jewish people; a holy and exalted purpose!

Moshe reappears. Questions are asked They begin to audit, examine and demand answers, and as the truth begins to unravel, doubts are cast not only on yesterday’s wasted funds but skepticism evolves about tomorrow’s requests, as well. So now, when appeals are made for the community’s most worthy cause – for G-d’s sanctuary, only the wise hearted respond. Ponzi schemes devastate entire communities, perhaps even more so when they are spiritual Ponzi schemes.

A most puzzling perhaps even frightening question however, emerges from these two fund raising campaigns. After massive contributions were offered for the making of the golden calf, when all was said and done all there was to show for all the riches contributed was one single calf. Yet, no one asks for an accounting. Unbelievable! There were no mass demonstrations demanding an accounting of what happened to all of the riches given, resulting in just one golden calf. On the other hand, when the cause, is as sacred as the erection of the Mishkan, Moshe feels compelled to render a precise accounting of every shekel collected. Wasn’t it obvious that all those leading the Egel campaign pocketed and misappropriated the majority of the funds, and those toiling with Moshe in building a Mishkan were genuinely honest?

This confusing phenomenon mirrors not only the giving to the ancient golden calf and historic Tabernacle. It describes realities of contemporary fund-raising and philanthropic trends. Multi-million dollar campaigns with glitzy public relations ads and web sites seem to attract many more generous contributions than genuinely meaningful causes. Confused priorities continue to plague the giving Jewish community. Memorials, monuments and museums acknowledging that which is no longer accrue millions of dollars for their bricks and mortar, while dynamic and vibrant houses of Jewish living where Torah is taught, hungry mouths are fed and Jewish souls are nourished and sustained for that which must be, valiantly struggle for today’s bread. Does it make any more sense than Egel’s phenomenal success, and Mishkan’s dependence on the few wise-hearted?

What ultimately is the difference between the call to respond to an Egel campaign and the privilege to contribute for a Mishkan? Making a golden calf involves a breaking loose from the bonds of self discipline, giving free rein to one’s instinct rather than to one’s spirit or heart. Making a Mishkan demands self discipline, assuming a higher calling, a yoke of Heaven, a calling not all are willing to assume.

Contributing to causes that assure Jewish living and continuity requires understanding, perspective and a spirit from on high that we simply can’t do with out them.

A poor man ran home in haste and breathlessly told his wife, “I have just been to see the richest man in town and found him at his dinner table eating blintzes. As I stood there smelling their delicious fragrance, the juices in me began to work. Oh my, those blintzes must certainly taste wonderful.”

Then the poor man sighed longingly. “If I could only taste blintzes just once.”

“But how can I make blintzes? I need eggs for that,” answered his wife.

“Do without eggs,” her husband sighed.

“But I will need cream.”

“Well, you will have to do without cream,” the husband responded again.

“And you think sugar doesn’t cost money?” the wife says.

“So, then do without the sugar.”

The wife set out to work and made the blintzes, but without the eggs, without the cream and without the sugar. With a judicious air the husband started to eat them, chewed them slowly and carefully, and then a look of bewilderment came to his face. “Let me tell you, Sarah,” he murmured, “for the life of me, I can’t see what those rich people see in blintzes.”

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, serves as OU Kosher’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.