The Torah Portion for this week is a double portion and is entitled Vayak’heil – P’kudei. It is taken from the book of Shemot.
In this portion, laws are laid out for building the Tabernacle, as well as the laws for making the sacral vestments that Aharon wears. First, the laws, go from G-d to Moses, then from Moses to the Israelites. The laws for the Tabernacle and sacral vestments are repeated several times, and the colors mentioned are repeated even more! Blue crimson and purple, Blue crimson and purple.
Don Isaac Abravanel, a biblical interpreter, says the repeating of these laws is “puzzling.” “Why keep recapitulating such details?,” he asks. Abravanel points out that they are repeated five times. “That’s four too many,” says my step-dad. I believe that the exact instructions and measurements regarding the building of the mishkan are repeated again and again because they are essential.
Moses gathers the Israelites and invites them to contribute to the building of their sanctuary. “Let everyone whose heart is moved bring forward their gifts of gold, silver, and copper, precious linens, yarns, and goats hair, along with spices, valuable skins, and precious stones.” There was such an outpouring of gifts that Moses actually had to tell the people to stop, that they had more than enough.
Today, there are very few times when we can say, “Stop. Enough donations.” Unlike back when Moses and the Israelites were building the Mishkan, later generations were required to make tithes, or pay taxes, based on their income. The charitable donations were made after the mandatory taxes were paid, based on what was left. I am sure there were few times that Jewish organizations said “Dayenu, ENOUGH.”
Rather than just being motivated by one’s heart to give and give, people needed to become more discerning as to whom they would give.
As charitable giving has become voluntary, we need to look at the obligations of tzedakah in Jewish tradition.
Is giving charity only when you make a donation when your heart moves you, or is it a requirement?
Rabbi Assi, a 3rd century scholar puts this in perspective when he says that “Tzedakah is equal to all of the mitzvot, all of the commandments.”
The majority of people agree that giving tzedakah is something you have to do. It is our obligation to care for anyone who is in need, of such things as food, clothing, household articles, or even a proper wedding.
Joseph Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, an important collection of Jewish law in the middle ages, writes: “Each person must contribute to charity according to his or her means,” which means that EVERYONE must give tzedakah, even if you yourself are a recipient. This indicates that the giving itself is less of an economic gesture and more to touch the soul and reinforce our Jewish values. Karo further comments that: “Even if one can give only very little, yet he or she should not abstain from giving, for the little is equally worthy to the large contribution of the rich.”
I have been taught to give tzedakah from my birth. My parents collected food at my bris to be donated to the communal food pantry at the Children’s Inn at NIH. Many of my friends here attended my birthday parties where I collected items from the Children’s Inn wishlist instead of receiving presents. Tzedakah is collected weekly at my school and we contribute to many of the mitzvah projects at JDS as well.
This past year I have been on the receiving end of tzedakah as well. While I was treated for cancer in Philadelphia at the Children’s Hospital there, I stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, which is very similar to the Children’s Inn at NIH to which I donated many things. My mom and dads and I ate meals that were donated, and ate food from the communal pantry just like the one that I collected for back home. At no point did I feel like I was needy, but I was glad to know that so many people cared about kids like me.
One big accomplishment of mine this year was being the leader of Team Jaimin at the Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation’s 5K Fun Run held this past October. I set my original goal at $10,200 in honor of my birthday, 01/02/00, which is what every doctor and nurse asked me as an identifying code. “Hi Jaimin,” they would say as they looked at my white bracelet, “What is your birthday?” My response 50 times a day was always the same, “01/02/00.”
And so my goal became just that—010200 dollars. How surprised was I when Team Jaimin, again which many of you here contributed to, raised over $15,500 dollars for pediatric brain cancer research.
For my Bar Mitzvah project I have asked my friends and family to donate small toys, card games, crayons, colored pencils, and the like to give to the Evan Foundation, an organization named after a boy who died of a neuroblastoma. His parents bring a treats and treasures cart to Children’s National every Wednesday night that goes from room to room on the oncology floor.
Kids get to choose from all kinds of candy and fun things, and then Evan’s parents give you even more. While going to the hospital for chemo or other treatments was never fun, it was always nice to have a pleasant thing to look forward to. I hope that my collection of these items will make other kids in my situation see their hospital stay in a better light. I know from personal experience that a Snickers or Crunch bar, or a Kit Kat can make you smile, as can an Uno card game, or sketch pad.
As some of you know, I had the opportunity of a lifetime when I worked with Lorraine Schwartz, jeweler to the stars, designing the bracelet worn by Taylor Swift at the Grammy Awards, as well as the earrings that she wore to the un-televised Grammy’s when she won the award for Safe and Sound. These items, made of amethysts, diamonds and 18-karat gold will be auctioned off to raise money for Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research, which also helps pay for music and art therapy in children’s hospitals.
I am very proud and glad that I can not only give, but give back to the organizations that have helped my family and me. I hope that you will help me in my future endeavors as well.