As parents we don’t usually discuss our financial situation with our children. A few days ago my 10-year-old came up to me and asked, “Mom, are we rich?” Hmm. When I was in parent’s school, they didn’t prepare me for this question. Should wealth be measured in comparison to people around us, or maybe in relation to our needs or to how much we can give others?
Parashat Terumah describes the Tabernacle and furnishings that were made of precious materials – gold and silver, valuable fabrics and special leathers. It opens with Moses calling on all the Children of Israel to contribute to the Temple:
.מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי
It was not a duty but an act of charity, out of free will and generosity of the heart. We could bear in mind that these people were slaves. They had very little property of their own. Despite this, they brought a lot of personal jewelry and materials for the building of the tabernacle. The question of how much you give is not related to how much money you have but your desire to contribute and your willingness to give.
This reminds me of a beautiful story that takes us to a completely different period in the land of Israel while the temple still existed. It tells about Rabbi Khanina Ben Dosa, an important sage.
Rabbi Khanina Ben Dosa watched all the people going up to Jerusalem, taking with them fine gifts and offerings for the Temple. How he longed to go with them and bring something wonderful for God.
Alas, Rabbi Khanina was very poor. He had nothing he could offer. He wandered sadly in the desert field. Suddenly he saw an interesting stone on the ground. It was very large and beautiful. What a splendid idea, thought Rabbi Khanina. I will take this stone to the holy Temple as my gift to God.
Rabbi Khanina ran home and got his tools. He cut the stone and polished it until its colors shone beautifully. At last, it was fit to create the holy Temple. But how would he ever get it there? He looked for someone to help. He would need five strong men to carry it and they would have to be paid but he knew he barely had five gold coins as his whole life’s savings. Suddenly five men appeared as if out of nowhere. “We will help you carry the stone,” they said. You can give us each one gold coin.” That was exactly how much money Rabbi Khanina could afford. “Yes,” he agreed at once. “I will give you that money.”
“You must also help us carry the stone,” said the men. As the men lifted the stone, Rabbi Khanina placed his hand under it, too. Suddenly he found himself in Jerusalem standing right there in the Temple. “Here, I’ll pay you,” he said to the men, but they had all vanished.
Rabbi Khanina hurried to speak with the priests. They smiled. “The people must have been angels sent to help you,” they said. Rabbi Khanina donated the money and thanked God for helping him. (Song of Songs Rabbah 1.1. The English version is taken from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/412249/jewish/Rabbi-Chanina-and-the-Rock.htm)
This story teaches us that giving is not a matter for the rich only and it is not necessarily related to money. Anyone can contribute even if he is poor. It is a matter of desire, thought and effort and going back to the question of my 10-year-old, in this sense, we are all rich because we all have something we can give.
Two mitzvot associated with Purim teach us to open our heart and open our hands: Mitzvat משלוח מנות – sending food to our friends, and מתנות לאביונים gifts to the needy. May we always find the treasures within us, and the strength and will to give to others.
Shavua Tov from Schechter.
Tamar Kadari is the Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and a lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah. She received her PhD in Midrashic literature from Hebrew University and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at The University of Pennsylvania. In 2009 Dr. Kadari received a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) to head a research group preparing a critical edition of Song of Songs Rabbah. Her research interests include biblical women in the eyes of the rabbis, aesthetics and beauty in rabbinic literature and literary readings of midrash. Dr. Kadari is also a sculptor whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.