5757 - #10

The Motivation for Giving

The Mishkan in the desert, the Beit HaMikdash1., the Temple utensils and the clothes of the kohanim (especially the Kohain Gadol) must have been sights to behold. Made of the finest of materials, including the most precious of metals and jewels, they were creations by artisans with no expense spared in their construction. And, as evidenced by Shemot 35:5-7 in regard to the Mishkan, the Jewish People responded to the call to give to this construction most generously. It was, and is, a most fitting duty and joy -- for should not the House of G-d stand out in beauty within this world? Zeh keli v'anveihu, "this is my G-d and I shall adorn Him"2.: we mark G-d's presence within this world, within our worlds, by performing mitzvot in the finest of ways, by taking the finest within this physical world and dedicating it to the Divine. In fact, it is our very ability to create form out of chaos, beauty out of randomness that celebrates the Divine within us -- what better way to mark our commitment to G-d?

Yet, today, pragmatically, in choosing where to direct our funds, we must wonder whether this expenditure on beauty should be our priority. In the desert, where all the needs of the Jewish People were taken care of by G-d, where poverty and disease did not exist, there was no greater priority. Of course, funds toward the building of the Mishkan in all its beauty should have been forthcoming -- and so Bnei Yisrael responded. But in our world, with the needs of so many before us, should not other expenditures come first? The words of the prophet Amos, which declare that we must place care for others above the Temple worship,3. should also ring in our ears. How can we even think of zeh keli v'anveihu when the misery and suffering of others is also before us? Yet this requirement also does exist within our world -with at least one opinion declaring the demands of the synagogue to even have priority over tzedakah.4.

A full investigation of priorities is obviously beyond the parameters of this study. Obviously, as evidenced by such halachic statements as Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 251:10, the dire needs of individuals must always be attended to immediately. Yet, a most significant question is truly before us. In a broader realm, we may wonder about all our expenditures on any and all levels. But the issue before us is specific: in determining an expenditure of religious significance - of Torah significance - what is the axiom that calls for expenditures on G-d's edifice in the face of social need?

The answer may lie in the very essence of our motivations for giving. The simplest reason to describe why we give tzedakah, why we give to any communal cause, is because there is a need. We respond to need; we give in order to help. But can we say that this was the motivation for the Jewish People when they gave - so remarkably - towards the building of the Mishkan? True, there was a need. True they were helping -- but helping whom? Did Hashem, the Performer of Miracles, need Bnei Yisrael to give to Him in order to construct a Mishkan? Obviously, G-d could have created this edifice, any edifice, in a moment, from nothing -- if Hashem's only purpose was to have the building. Indeed, there are many opinions that state that the Third Temple will be built in such a miraculous manner, descending complete, in splendour, out of the sky.5. Hashem called upon the Jewish People to participate in the building of the Mishkan because their participation was necessary. It was more than

a response to need. It was a command to build.

Basically, we give for two reasons. One is the response to need -- and that motivation is necessary. But it cannot be our only reason for giving. Responding to need is like filling a hole; there is a problem and it calls for a solution. But when the hole is filled, we still are only back at the ground floor. What happens when the hole is filled, when the problems are solved? Where do we go from there? It is not enough to be at the ground floor -- the human being must look towards growth; we must climb. We require a goal. The other reason to give is to build.

In a certain way, this is also a need -- but it is the need for vision. The eradication of suffering and misery is a worthwhile endeavour but, alone, it is also a hollow endeavour. Where is humanity going? What is the human being? Is our goal the removal of all problems so that humanity can achieve perfected hedonism, banality or the mundane? We cannot only respond to need; in fact, even when we respond to need, we really must respond to the need to build. The suffering of an individual must be seen as a loss of potential in a human being, a loss of soul. Assisting another must be seen as furthering the path of this person towards greatness, the path of all of us towards greatness. Giving to the Synagogue must always be joined with all other givings for it maintains the goal. It reminds us of our ultimate mission. It continuously tells us what humanity truly is and the greatness that is our destiny. The Jewish People's response to the Mishkan was not an isolated event in a desert long ago. It is an inspiration that should be ours in all times and in all places.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1.See, for example, T.B. Baba Batra 4a in regard to Herod's re-building.

2. Shemot 15:2.

3. See, for example, Amos 4:1-5 and 5:18-24.

4. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 249:16. See also T.B. Baba Batra 9a, Tosfot d.h. She'ne'amar and Bi'ur HaGra, Yoreh De'ah 249:20. The fact that these sources may be concerned with the very functioning of a synagogue does not detract from the essence of the issue before us.

5. See, Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, chapter 23, "Messianic Jerusalem".

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