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How to Give

How to Give

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The construction of the Sanctuary, Israel's first Synagogue, is about to begin. G‑d gives Moses his instructions, "Tell the people of Israel to bring to Me an offering." Rashi comments on the words "to Me" with characteristic brevity and profundity, "to Me: for My sake."

The position of American Jews in Jewish history as the philanthropic community is based deservedly enough on its already proverbial generosity. By now the response to imminent, certainly to actual, threats to Jews anywhere is assured. American Jews will not permit a recurrence of lives lost because of insufficient funds. Domestically, of course, Jews have always taken care of their own and others as well.

A charitable person is not simply one who gives charity, but one who is charitableHaving attained the status of philanthropist, the American Jew is prepared to examine himself, to grow as a person, a man of good deeds. He does give, and unstintingly, but he may ask himself, "How do I give?" What is his purpose in giving, what does he seek in giving? The American Jewish community, in its religious and secular aspects equally, lavishly rewards contributors. Honors, office, publicity, authority are promptly forthcoming even in anticipation of the contribution (that may never materialize, alas).

Charity, be it clear, is not vitiated by any motives. But a charitable person is not simply one who gives charity, but one who is charitable, whose heart responds to distress, not his purse alone. Our hearts are now at this stage in their education, and the first lesson is in today's Torah portion. Our offerings are not to be for our personal benefit, for selfish considerations of glory and power, but "for My sake," because we are Jews and we cannot permit suffering, because we recognize our responsibilities to G‑d and mankind.

Is this a difficult lesson, meant for angels or saints? A people who have learned to give so generously and gladly, can surely learn how to give.

Rabbi Zalman I. Posner (1927-2014) was a noted author and lecturer. He was rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, Tennessee, for 53 years and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nashville.
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