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by Rabbi Ariel Asa    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"If I were a rich man. . .I would have the funds that I need to help my brothers that are poor; isn't that what having money's for?"



"If I were a rich man. . .I would have the funds that I need to help my brothers that are poor; isn't that what having money's for?"

So went Tevya's famous words. But, as many wealthy individuals might admit, it isn't necessarily easier to donate when you are rich. However, a recent study of the top 100 non-profit organizations and charities revealed that Jewish giving (tzedakah) is disproportionately high compared to the overall populus. In Israel, gemachim (free loan organizations) exist for everything under the sun, from monetary loans to medical equipment. Where does this seemingly ingrained attribute of giving come from?

In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people are provided the opportunity to donate various materials for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The donations included gold, silver, copper, and precious stones, among other items. Shortly after the appeal began, it became clear that people were bringing more than was needed. Moses quickly sent out an announcement throughout the camp: "Let no man or woman bring any more material for the sacred offering" (Exodus 36:6). Imagine, an appeal where people actually have to be asked to stop giving! Fundraisers of the world, take note.

Perhaps we can better understand this admirable desire of the Jewish people to donate their resources based upon another mitzvah described much later in the Torah (Leviticus 27:32). When an individual separated his yearly tithe (one tenth) of his animals to be given to the Kohen (priest), there was a very specific procedure that was followed. First, he assembled all of the animals that had been born that year and placed them in a corral. Next, he passed them through a narrow gateway. As they passed through the small opening, the owner counted them - "One, two, three. . .nine" - and then as the tenth one came through, he would mark its back with a red stripe. Thus, animals #10, #20, #30, etc. were given to the Kohen. Logically, this seems like an unnecessary bother to the owner. Why not have the owner check his records of how many animals had been born that year, and calculate his tithe obligations appropriately?

Hashem anticipated the emotions that the owner might be going through as he was about to part with his livestock. "How can I give away a tenth of my animals? It is way too much. I've had a rough year, my daughter is getting married in a few months - I'm overextended on my line of credit." The possible internal objections are limitless.

Hashem responds: "Here, count your animals. This one is for you, this one is for you, this one is for you. . .only the tenth one give to Me. Now again, this one is for you. . .the twentieth one give to Me." Through this procedure, a person comes to realize the great bounty that Hashem has granted him. What he ends up giving in return is actually a minuscule amount in comparison to what he has received.

Thus, the Jewish people upon exiting Egypt started counting the tremendous amount of precious materials that they took with them and were elated to donate a portion of it for the building of the Mishkan. They donated with such enthusiasm that they had to be told to stop giving.

Maybe next time we get our paycheck, we should request it in single dollar bills.


Rabbi Ariel Asa is an educator at Torah Day School of Atlanta and is actively involved in bringing eight day old baby boys into the covenant of Abraham.

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