Friday, February 24, 2012

Parashat T'rumah - Reflections on Tzedakah

This week's NYL Shabbat Message was written by NYL Cabinet member Jordan Berman from San Diego.

Dear Chevre:

In this week’s Parasha, T’rumah, from the book of Exodus, we read “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Israelite people, and have them take for Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” Furthermore, G-d tells Moses the gifts that he would accept are gold, yarn, linen goat hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, some stones and spices. The Israelites were to use these gifts to make a sanctuary so G-d could “dwell among them.”
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Is this not the perfect Parsha to help synagogues raise money? In fact, it is sometimes mentioned when Rabbis are trying to connect congregants to the place in which they pray and to inspire them to donate. However, last year my rabbi was not pleased when I donated yarn and goat hair to the High Holiday campaign.

So this got me thinking: what does “Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” mean? The First and Second Temple were temporary physical sanctuaries. The synagogues we attend today are also temporary sanctuaries. Does G-d want to dwell in a temporary sanctuary? If we can agree that G-d does not, then there is only one true permanent sanctuary. This sanctuary is what has sustained the Jewish people from generation to generation. This is the sanctuary within each of us.

And what of the gifts G-d describes? Maybe these gifts the Israelites are to part with are the gifts of tzedakah. I am not referring to what most of us think of as tzedakah, putting a coin into a tzedakah box or making a donation; donating money is easy. Tzedakah in Hebrew literally means “righteousness.” Striving for righteousness is difficult, and one can give more tzedakah by becoming more righteous in our daily lives. By giving the gifts of respect, tolerance, understanding, kindness and love to others, by performing tikkun olam, G-d dwells in each one of us. We become the true sanctuaries. 

As Gandhi said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world." This year I hope that every one of us gives a little more tzedakah than in the past, and that in doing so, we all let G-d dwell within us.

Have a great weekend!

Shabbat Shalom!


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