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Dvar Torah Parshat Pekudei 5782

Building a Tabernacle for the Public Good Starts with a Donation...

Rabbi Daniel Burstyn

It used to be that when I would open the parashot at the end of the book of Exodus, I would think that all these lists of materials for constructing the tabernacle were superfluous. The Torah uses more words to describe the construction of the tabernacle than to describe the creation of the whole world. Why? Recently, my wife and I have begun a new adventure – we're building a house. We worked hard for many years, raised a family in fairly modest conditions, and now we can finally afford to expand our home. And I suddenly understand. Four and a half parashot – Terumah, Tetzaveh, part of Ki Tissa, Vayakhel and this weeks parsha, Pekudei, all these repetitions of the materials and the measurements and the quantities – it's very clear – only the sketches are missing.

When you work on a project like this, you understand better why the process starts with Terumah – with donations. Because without the money, it's impossible to begin construction, it's impossible even to dream. If you can't afford to build, the possibilities will be much more limited. There is social pressure to build a home from the ground up.

And here we introduce the Architect, Betzalel. The Torah says: "I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft; to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of craft." (Ex. 31) So that he will know how to translate the vision that Moses saw on Mt Sinai from the imagination into practice. Moses had to appoint Betzalel at this point – Moses didn't know how to do the work. And a person who is unable to do the building work must appoint the appropriate contractors. One Midrash focuses on the point that Moses was unable to imagine the Menorah among all the other tools:

Another interpretation (of Numb. 8:2), “Speak unto Aaron [and say unto him], ‘When you set up the lamps.’” You find that Moses experienced more difficulty in making the menorah then for all the [other] vessels of the tabernacle; until the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him with [His] finger. Moshe experienced difficulty with three things.... What is the meaning of hammered work (mqshh)? It is meaning to say, how difficult (mh qshh) it is to make. For Moses spent a lot of effort before the menorah was made; as it says (in Exod. 25:31), “with difficulty (mqshh, revoweled as miqqashah) shall the menorah be made.” When it became difficult for him, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Moses, take a talent of gold and cast it into the fire. Then take it out, and it will have been made automatically.” (Ibid. cont.:)

The kind of miracle that Moses experienced according to this midrash doesn't usually happen with building projects these days. So how do we move from the desire to build, from the dream of a house, to the actual process? In the words of the piyyut, think before you act (sof maaseh bemahshava tehila). The image of the completed project must be clear to the builder. And the planning process must be exhaustive. One of the primary parts of the engineer's work is translating designs into lists of materials. Because only when the lists are complete and exact, can the builders give comparable estimates. The Children of Israel didn't go shopping for the best contractor, but they certainly wanted to know that Betzalel and Oholiav were keeping track of every ounce of gold and silver and other materials they used in the construction. Indeed we learn that the people were so excited about the project, that they donated more than the builders needed. Moses announced that they must stop. If the builders hadn't known how much materials were needed, how would they have known how much was too much?

It’s not like this today. People don't rush to give away their money for the public good. But the Jewish tradition is a tradition of generosity and donations, of Revach (profit) and Tzedaka. Our tradition encourages anyone who has enough, anyone who profits, to donate from their money for the good of the community and for the service of the Holy One. People donate when they feel like their donation will be useful to the community, or to the service of the Holy One.
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So why do some of us shrink from donating? Where does the message that donations might be wasted come from? Our 21st century culture is strongly influenced by Christian traditions, and among them, the Calvinist tradition that an individual's economic condition reflects God's will – if a person is rich, they are doing God's will, and if they are poor, they are clearly being punished for something. The secular translation of this says that each person must work as hard as possible to succeed. If you're poor, it's your fault. And if you're guilty of something that leads you to such poverty, why should a rich person reach out to help you? The Mishnah condemns this as the "values of Sodom" –

"There are four character types among people... One who says 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours' is of average character, and some say - this is the trait of Sodom." (Avot 5:10)

And R' Ovadia of Bartenura explains:

And there are some who say that is the trait of Sodom:
The thing is close to coming to the trait of Sodom. As since he gets accustomed to this, he will not want to give benefit to his fellow - even with something that benefits his fellow and he does not [lose anything as a result]. And this was the trait of Sodom. As they were intending to stop sojourners from among them, even though the land was broad-shouldered in front of them and they did not lack anything.

Bartenura says that this should be enough to convince to people to donate. But the Calvinist approach allows an opening to the Yetzer HaRa, the evil inclination – an opening to the inclination of distrust and stinginess that is exemplified in the people of Sodom. And sadly, the Yetzer HaRa doesn't need more encouragement than that. In earlier generations, opposing this expression of the Yetzer HaRa stood the feeling of shame. Rich members of traditional communities would be shamed if they did not donate enough. But today this strong social tool of public shame has been weakened, and it is much more difficult to compel newly rich individuals, who never learned the values of the traditional society that was built on profit and tzedakah.

Rabbi Daniel Burstyn
, Regional Rabbi of Hevel Eilot has been a member of Kibbutz Lotan since 1990. He is a member of RHR's social justice committee and splits his time between physical and spiritual service. He teaches Judaism and Ecology to youth and adults in the kibbutz and in the Arava Region.

RHR Welcomes Supreme Court Decision on Sheikh Jarrah

This week, The Supreme Court froze evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, confirming a previous lower court decision. This is an important and positive direction that was also welcomed by the local Palestinian families and activists on the ground. We recall that the decision does not apply to all of the families under threat and that there’s no other option other than a full moratorium on settlement activities in Sheik Jarrah and protection for the Palestinian residents of the neighborhood.
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“Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed,
for everyone was created in the Divine Image”

When a democratic state is trampled and the lives of its citizens are in danger, when fundamental principles are challenged, including justice, law, freedom and tolerance - even when we are speechless, there must be no silence.

Our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their freedom and to organizations here that offer relief, support and refuge. Any utilitarian consideration must not come at the expense of identification with those who defend themselves against mortal danger of destruction.

We call on the Israeli government to allow the entry of refugees without checking the eligibility of the Law of Return. This is not the time to check Jewish lineage, but to open your heart.

At the same time, we must not be silent about the policy of the State of Israel with regard to the sale of weapons and security systems around the world. In days of fear and destruction, what is left to do is to support, assist, and call for change. We cannot ignore this catastrophe.

In the photo: the Kharkiv Center after the Russian army shelling, from Twitter: https://twitter.com/Yoav__Zehavi/status/149899740...

Read RHR Executive Director, Avi Dabush's Latest Article

We will have a Gantz for the Periphery

By Avi Dabush, RHR Executive Director

Originally published in Hebrew in Yisrael HaYom (27/02/2022)
Translated to English by the RHR Newsletter Editor

I have a dream: A party that will fight as hard for people living in poverty as Gantz fights for billions for pensions of career army officers. There is no revolution without taking chances and using power.

When asked what a revolution in favor of the periphery of Israel would look like in political terms, the answer is simple: a coalition crisis around the terrible gaps. When a government falls because of poverty, gaps in education and health care or a public housing crisis, we will know that the periphery has political power.
Read the Article
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