"Take from yourselves a portion for
"Take from yourselves a portion for
This week's Torah portion begins with Hashem commanding the Jewish people to open their hearts and generously contribute to a worthwhile cause, the funding for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). On the surface, one might interpret this simply as a request that they give a portion of their riches to the Mishkan fund. However, if one looks into the deeper meaning of the text and examines the language used by the Torah to describe where the money that is being donated should come from, one can learn a monumental lesson as to how charity should optimally be given.
The following story illustrates the lesson to be learned. There was a time when the great Yeshiva of Volozhin, the center of advanced Torah study in 19th century Lithuania, was experiencing horrible financial difficulties. In search of relief, Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, the renowned rosh yeshiva (dean), made a special trip to the city of Minsk in order to raise funds. Upon his arrival, he was approached by two charity collectors named Reb Baruch and Reb Dover who immediately offered their assistance. Rabbi Soloveichik went home with Reb Baruch and explained in full the reason why he had come to Minsk. Reb Baruch assured him that he would take care of the situation and that Rabbi Soloveichik should continue to concentrate on his studies. After some time, Rabbi Soloveichik approached the charity collector and asked him how he was doing in terms of gathering up the money needed to save the Yeshiva. Answered Reb Baruch, "I already have in my hand half of the amount." Rabbi Soloveichik was thrilled to hear this wonderful news and returned to his studying. A month later, when asked the same question, Reb Baruch responded that he had raised the entire amount needed to save the Yeshiva. Rabbi Soloveichik happily accepted the donations and returned home to pay off the debts of the Yeshiva.
After some time, the two men who helped collect the money in Minsk came to Rabbi Soloveichik because they needed a ruling in a din Torah, a court case adjudicated according to Jewish law. The plaintiff, Reb Dover, claimed that he was supposed to be a partner with Reb Baruch in the collecting of the money in Minsk. However, the charity that was given over to Rabbi Soloveichik came strictly from Reb Baruch's own pocket. This upset Reb Dover tremendously, for the generous contributions saved the Yeshiva of Volozhin and Reb Dover wanted to be part of this successful undertaking by giving half of the needed sum of money on his own.
When Rabbi Soloveichik became aware of how this money was collected, that Reb Baruch had given the entire sum from his own pocket, he was befuddled by a question and felt compelled to ask Reb Baruch, "If you gave all of the money from you own pocket, why didn't you have all the money ready the first time I asked you about the funds?" Reb Baruch answered simply, "Do you think it was easy giving even half the amount from my own wallet? It took me a long time of toiling and introspection to destroy my desires. I was engaged in an internal war trying to bring myself towards giving the charity over with a full heart. It wasn't until the second time you approached me that I felt I could give you the entire sum of money happily without feeling any regret or remorse."
From this story, a great lesson can be learned by all of us. When we give charity, it should not be viewed as a burden or a loss. Rather, we should try to elevate ourselves to the spiritual level of giving with absolutely no strings attached. Supporting organizations in the community, Israel, or even just dropping some change in the tzedakah box on a daily basis should become an event that we, as Jews, feel is coming from the heart. As the verse in this week's Torah portion exclaims, "everyone whose heart motivates him" shall give to the construction of the Mishkan, for such charity is truly precious in the eyes of Hashem.
Special thanks to Jonathan Teitelbaum for his help with this article.
Joel Orgel, a graduate of the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta, is a junior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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