Door to door tzedakah collectors are a common sight in most Jewish neighborhoods. Whether representatives of charitable institutions or fund-raising for their own needs, they are traditionally welcomed into the house, receive a friendly word and a donation, and then continue on their way. Our tribe enjoys a reputation for open hearts and wallets, and it is a matter of pride that we look after our own.
When we were kids we'd fight to get to the door first to welcome the meshulachim (fund-raising representatives). My folks would give their donation and then it was our turn. We'd hand over a dollar or two and receive a receipt in return. The meshulachim never seemed to mind the imposition, variously amused or bemused by the seriousness with which we treated the transaction. I kept my collection of receipts in my top drawer and I vividly remember comparing and contrasting the different styles of receipt that various institutions equipped their representatives with on their travels.
My parents hoped to instill the understanding that giving tzedakah is a privilege, not a burdenObviously my parents hoped to instill in us the understanding that giving tzedakah is a privilege, not a burden, and the poor guy knocking on your door is a welcome guest not a nuisance.
There is a fascinating Midrash on this week's Torah section that bears out this point. The Tabernacle construction was funded by the generous donations of all the Jews in the desert. Men, women and children all lined up, eager to contribute to the cause. One would hardly imagine that the children's gift made much of a difference to a project as grand as that of the Tabernacle. In fact, the Torah relates that just a short time after first appealing for funds, Moses was forced to close the doors, overwhelmed by the spontaneous generosity of his people. Clearly they encouraged the kids to contribute on educational grounds rather than out of necessity.
The Tabernacle was the house of G‑d, a place for G‑d to dwell. We all share the ability and responsibility to change the world, bringing the Divine into our lives. If you wait too long to begin training your kids to make their contribution to society, you may find that you're too late. By welcoming and encouraging children to give of their own to the common cause, we help them grow into functioning citizens, with an appreciation of their gifts and a readiness to share.
If we can raise our young with this breadth of vision and generosity of spirit, we'll soon deserve to be solicited towards the ultimate building project; the third and final Temple in Jerusalem.