Chaim Abromowitz was on a cruise when his yacht sank during a violent storm. Fortunately everyone on board survived by swimming to a nearby island. When the people realized that they might be stranded for weeks or even months on this desert island, they began building shelters for themselves and searching for food.
All except Mr. Abromowitz. He lay on the beach tanning himself in the sun. When the others asked him why he was so calm, he said, "You don't understand. Two years ago my synagogue had a shortfall and I gave them twenty-thousand dollars. Last year when they had a capital campaign I gave them fifty-thousand. It's a new year ~ don't worry, they'll find us!"
They say that there's nothing new under the sun and that's certainly true when it comes to Jewish fund raising. Parashat Terumah, this week’s Torah portion, opens with the first record of a building campaign but not the last. Having left Egypt and receiving the Torah at Sinai, Moses is told to instruct the people, "Vayik-khu lee Terumah ~ take for me an offering," of silver, gold, fine materials and precious stones. With these materials the people were to build a Mishkan, a tabernacle, so that, "God might dwell in their midst."
The sages point out that there's two things about the opening verse of our Parashah that are strange. First, Moses is instructed to invite the people, and not to order them, to contribute to the building of tabernacle. With all the commandments in the Torah, one would have expected this verse to be the same: Thou shalt. But it's not ~ it contains an invitation for all those with a generous heart to contribute to this project.
And second, the Torah seems to have it backwards. Vayk-khu lee, means "Let them TAKE -- Let them GIVE. Giving and taking would appear to be opposite activities. So why doesn't the Torah simply say, "Let them give an offering?" After all, the people were really being asked to give, not take something.
There's a lesson to be learned from the seemingly strange language of this verse. It teaches us that the greatest gift that we can receive is the one that we give away! And it teaches us that our generosity is the measure of our pleasure and our wealth in life. What we give is what we take.
Sir Moses Montifiore was one of the richest Englishmen of the nineteenth century and one of its best known philanthropists. He was once approached by a very rude man who wanted to know how much the philanthropist was "worth." Without blinking, Montifiore answered 50,000 English pounds. "Only 50,000?" pounds?" the man answered, "Why every one knows you're worth much more than that!" "My good man, you misunderstood me," said Montifiore, "I'm worth 50,000 pounds. That's how much I've given away to charity so far this year. It's the only money that I have to my credit!"
I believe that this is a great philosophy by which to live ones life. Charity is not what we give away but what we really have! The worth of a human being can be measured by what he gave away this year ~ not how much money he was able to hoard in the bank. Instead of looking at our stock portfolio maybe we ought to review a persons charitable giving...
It's no accident that there are no pockets on Takhrikhim ~ on a Jewish burial shroud. This garment teaches us a lesson we have all stated at one time or another but are not sure we truly believe: "You can't take it with you." In the end, human life is measured not by what we take with us but what we give away. There are no deposits in the next world ~ only receipts. Hopefully we will all leave this world with empty pockets, having given away everything we have and having done all that we can do.
The building of the Tabernacle, then, was not about Kavod - it wasn't about the honors people would receive for having contributed to this important project. There were no name plates in the Mishkan and no dedicatory plaques. And yet every person who gave knew that they were receiving more than they were giving up. True charity has the power to enrich us. In the words of the great sage and Philosopher, Moses Maimonides -- "No person has ever been impoverished by giving charity."
Too often we hear people complaining about the constant demands for support from their synagogue, or other organizations, or the needy. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could come to see these requests not as a burden but as an opportunity? Not only as a chance to give but a challenge to take something back in return?
The Talmud says, "Tzedakah tatzil mimavet," — charity can save us from death. Giving and taking a really not so different from one another. Both have the power to enrich our souls. Both have the power to add sanctity and meaning to our lives. Shabbat Shalom!
This Shabbat morning we will be fortunate to listen to the reading of one of the most significant statements of religion and morality: the Aseret Hadibrot, or the Ten Commandments. Isn't it strange that these commandments are just as controversial today as they were 3500 years ago when the Jewish people first received them at Mount Sinai? Who could imagine that at the beginning of the twenty first century we would still be arguing about these ten simple laws?
I once saw a bumper sticker that said: "The Ten Commandments are not multiple choice." We are not supposed to pick and choose between them. Yet I suspect that we do.
The truth is, though, most of us do affirm the Ten Commandments. If I received a dime every time someone said, "I'm a good person. I try to live by the Ten Commandments," I'd be rich. Most people choose to define morality by this basic set of laws. The fact that there are six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Torah, and not just ten, doesn't seem to matter to most of us. Everything comes down to this sub-set that we can count on two hands. We believe them. We affirm them. And we try to live by them.
All, except one, that is. There's one commandment that we seem to have forgotten. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." While we regularly affirm the Ten Commandments as the fundamental laws of society, few people make the time to 'remember' the Sabbath and make it a regular part of their weekly schedule. I don't mean simply coming to synagogue or attending a church once a week. I mean setting aside twenty-four or twenty five hours as a true day of rest and renewal.
Just the opposite is true: we are moving furiously toward a society that functions 24/7. In fact we may already be there. We value immediate service, fast response, and we crave our constantconnection to the world. How many of us carry cell phones and other wireless internet devices with us all the time. There is no time for breaks and we value speed above all else. The instruments that we consider conveniences actually enslave us. We can't free ourselves of them. We have to check our e-mail; we can't bear to forgo the last phone call. We're afraid we'll miss something.
While communications devices have brought us closer together, they have also made our lives more chaotic and hectic. There was a time when you wrote a letter and you had to wait several days or a week for a response. Now the response is almost immediate. Rather then improving our lives, wireless devices consume the spare minutes between chores. There's no time to breathe; someone is waiting for our answer.
Regular mail is now referred to pejoratively as snail mail. It has become something of a dinosaur. One of my colleagues recently asked me, when was the last time you took the time to hand-write a letter to someone? Worst of all, our work follows us home as we turn on our personal computers. Or if you're like me, then you never turn your computer off. It's constantly feeding you an overwhelming amount of data and information. We are on overload. Life doesn't stop. And we grow more and more tired each day. In fact right now, 9:01 am Thursday morning, I'm pretty tired already after a sleepless night.
This obsession with technology has had another ill affect on us. The more time we spend focusing on the outside world means that we spend less time focusing on our inner spiritual life. It is so easy to spend all our time checking e-mail, looking at the news, watching video clips, and monitoring the weather that we never stop to listen to the inner sounds of our soul. Shabbat is an opportunity to take a moratorium from the world so that we can get back in touch not only with God but with ourselves, and our community. It's a chance to rediscover our family and renew our romance with our spouse. What could be more romantic than a dinner with candlelight and wine? Shabbat is an opportunity to smell the roses, take a walk, or just spend time veg'ing out with a friend.
I was fascinated to discover an article on-line about the importance of "Keeping the Sabbath." What was so fascinating for me was that the article appeared in an on-line journal from the Alden Institute. The Alden Institute is an organization that advises churches on how to function more effectively. Written by Lynne Baab, A Presbyterian Minister, the article suggests that we need to rediscover the Sabbath as a way of avoiding burn out. Rev. Baab responds to several myths about keeping the Sabbath. Her approach sounds very Jewish!
One common myth is that we can't afford the time to give up a whole day of productivity each week. Ms Baab points out that in recent studies it was found that people who worked seven 50-hour weeks got no more done than those who worked seven 40-hour weeks. Among more than a hundred and fifty churchgoers the author found that people who observed the Sabbath got more done because they felt more focused and rested during the work week even though they may work fewer total hours.
We need the Sabbath now more than ever. Shabbat does not restrict our lives - it frees us to become our selves. It saves us from burn out. And while Shabbat may be different for each of us, we need to begin by blocking out this time and giving it back to God.
Shabbat is the forgotten commandment. And we need it now more then ever. So lets "Turn off, shut down, and reconnect to life!" Shabbat Shalom. Looking forward to seeing you on Shabbat and standing with you as the Ten Commandments are read again.
(excerpts from Shabbat: The Forgotten Commandment by
Rabbi Mark B Greenspan, Beth Shalom Oceanside Jewish Center)