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Home » Vayakhel

Vayakhel Pekudei: Unity in giving

Submitted by on March 16, 2009 – 2:18 pmNo Comment | 2,515 views

Greed and Generosity

In Fiddler On The Roof, a film filled with memorable moments, the scene of Perchick’s proclamation, “Money is the world’s curse” and Tevye’s defiant reply, “May the Lord smite me with it,” stands out as prominent. Indeed, money is the source of humanity’s greatest friction. Most marital disputes revolve around money. Most disagreements brought before the world’s courts are about financial matters.

Yet money is also a source of inspiration. Warren Buffet’s 2006 announcement of his eighty-five Billion dollar contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stands out as one of the noblest moments of the last decade. I don’t know of a single act that inspired more philanthropy and generosity world wide. Philanthropy begets philanthropy. Pledges of matching grants to charitable institutions rarely fail to inspire generosity on the part of others. Indeed, money can serve to ennoble and inspire.

Money is neither a curse nor a blessing. It is our attitude that determines the outcome. When we view money as an agent that provides our needs, comforts and luxuries, it inspires greed. There is only so much money in the world’s pie and we each crave the largest possible slice. When others take an inordinately large slice, our own greed is triggered and we want more. But when others use money to spread happiness, blessing and goodwill our entire perspective changes; their example inspires us to overcome our greed and to join them in their beneficence.

Collective Inspiration

I was once at a Fund Raiser for a charitable institution when a prominent donor led a group of nine contributors to the podium and announced their collective pledge of roughly three million dollars. How did he accomplish this? He simply walked around the tables and told each donor how much the others had pledged. No one wanted to be left out or outdone; they all joined hands in the magnificent, but spontaneous pledge.

I recall the uplifting inspiration of that moment.  Overcome by the profundity of the gift; we greeted the announcement with enthusiasm and the donors with a standing ovation. Amidst the cheer and jubilation we each came to terms with our own reservations and our fears about giving. In our common celebration we overcame our inhibitions and became better acquainted with our charitable selves.

Inspiring moments are most effective when they are experienced with others; the larger the gathering the more profound the inspiration. Learning about a generous pledge in the privacy or our homes might inspire us to give, but this inspiration must contend with our many other interests such as concern for our financial security, desire to provide comfortably for our families, passion for luxurious living and of course greed.

When charity is celebrated in large gatherings the spirit of collective celebration brings about a clarity that overrules our narrow, parochial needs. fostering unity - innerstreamThere is unity in giving. The collective realization about the power and true import of philanthropy forces our selfish needs into the background and allows our spirit of philanthropy to flourish. At that moment the entire gathering is united in a single overarching theme that brings our own conflicting interests into sharp focus. It is a moment of truth; compelling and inescapable.

Moses Gathered

This is why Moses called for the entire nation to congregate before the tabernacle was built. Having experienced an incredible moment at Sinai, where the nation melded into a single entity with total unity of purpose, Moses wanted to replicate this singularity in the tabernacle. Moses knew that the single most potent barrier to unity is money and therefore addressed this barrier before all others.
Before announcing the fund raising campaign to build the tabernacle Moses shared a law, “Thou shall not kindle a fire in all your dwellings on the day of Shabbat.” (1) Though this law is somewhat irrelevant to the construction of the tabernacle, it is most relevant to the unity of purpose that must precede it.

Fire is a metaphor for passion. Our passion on Shabbat must not be kindled by or invested in prosaic matters such as the beauty or security of our dwelling places. From Shabbat this ethic must spill over into the rest of the week. Money should not be viewed as an agent that provides the needs, comforts and luxuries of our dwelling places. Rather it is meant to be a vehicle through which holiness and goodwill are delivered. Our sages taught that gold was created to be used in the Tabernacle. Though we are entitled to keep the extra gold for ourselves, its primary purpose is not for pouring into our dwelling places, but to be used in the service of the Divine cause.

Fire carries an additional connotation. It serves as a metaphor for anger and divisiveness. When we recognize that money is a vehicle that serves the Divine cause in spreading holiness and goodwill, it ceases to be a source of friction between people and families. We stop fighting over the size of our respective slices of the pie and the fires of anger and divisiveness are not kindled in our dwelling places.

When our ancestors embraced this truth and were inspired to the heights of unity and collective generosity Moses initiated the construction of the tabernacle. The fund raising campaign was so successful that in the end donors were begged to stop contributing! Once they were taught the true import of money they stopped trying to hoard it and worked with their neighbors to distribute it.

Doing Our Part

We too can gather people and inspire them to the heights of unity and generosity. This is especially true in this year, 5769, a year intended for Jewish gatherings. Every seven years, during  the year that followed the Shemitah (Sabbatical year), the entire nation gathered in the Temple where the King would read for them from the Torah. The purpose of these gatherings was to inspire the nation to reverence and awe of G-d. Last year was a Shemitah year. This year is thus designated (and therefore spiritually conducive to the success of) inspirational gatherings.

But we don’t need to wait till a gathering is called to inspire the world through our own example. Every time we give a donation to the poor or offer assistance to the needy, especially during these trying times, we inspire others to do the same. Let us not wait for others to inspire us. Rather  let us endeavor to become that source of inspiration for others. (2)


  1. Exodus 35: 3.
  2. This essay is based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, delivered on 27 Adar, 5749.

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