by Rabbi Jared H. Saks
In the opening verses of the Torah portion T’rumah, God instructs Moses to speak to the Israelites so that they will collect for God, from each person whose heart is moved, gifts that will help to construct the Mishkan, the portable wilderness sanctuary. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the 19th century German Orthodox rabbi, asks why the text says that the Israelites should take the gifts for God, instead of God having said, “bring Me gifts.” The rabbi teaches, “The gift should not be given directly to God; rather, the gift of each individual should be made to the community for God’s purposes. This implies that it is not the individual but the community that is to set up the institutions dedicated to God’s purposes, and it is not for the individual donors but for the community as a whole that these institutions are to be established.”
This is a key concept of Jewish life. While individualism matters in Judaism, it is the community that takes precedent; that is one of the indications that Judaism has roots in Eastern philosophy. We have communal redemption, not personal salvation. Additionally, this text is one of the sources for Bet Ha’am’s annual financial commitment, machazit hashekel and nediv lev. Nediv lev (generous of heart), which appears in the opening verses of Parashat T’rumah as yidvenu libo (“whose heart is moved”), is the notion that each Israelite contributed to the construction of the Mishkan a heartfelt gift.
Tradition tells us that so much was brought that Moses had to call off the collection. Today, members of Jewish communities like our own generously fund the community so that we can not only serve one another and the general community, but also fulfill God’s mission for us in the world, honoring God through our work. Generosity of heart has been a cornerstone of Judaism since its earliest days. Since the time of the Mishkan, God has designated the community as the beneficiary of its members’ generosity so that we can bring God’s light into the world.