Parashat Vayakhel – Shabbat Shekalim 5782

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Generosity and Commitment
A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayakhel
By Rabbi Enid Lader (’10)

Voluntary gifts from every quarter of the Israelite population formed the material out of which the Mishkan and its sacred vessels and priestly clothing were crafted and built. There was no imposed special tax for this purpose, but merely the request for voluntary individual contributions: “Take from among you gifts to the Eternal; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the Eternal…” (Exodus 35:5).

And bring they did, with such exuberance and generosity that those in charge of the project begged Moses to end the campaign: “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Eternal has commanded to be done” (Exodus 36:5).

Thus, we have the first building campaign that over-subscribed its goal!

This Shabbat we also commemorate Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. As a special concluding section to our Torah reading, we read the instructions for taking a census through the half-shekel tax: “Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give the Eternal’s offering. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel… You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before the Eternal, as expiation for your persons.” (Exodus 30:14-16) This tax was as a means of support for the Tabernacle; and the Haftarah portion details this contribution to support the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacred center of Jewish worship. This financial support is similar to our modern-day concept of maintaining our congregations with dues.

These contributions, one voluntary and the other obligatory, supported the building and maintenance of our people’s spiritual center. It is the obligatory commitment which provides for the day to day, ongoing operations. It is the generosity of the heart which allows the spirit (and the congregation) to soar. Truly, can we have one without the other?

Many synagogues take advantage of this commemoration of Shabbat Shekalim to ask congregants to give tzedakah, to donate to charity. I would like to invite you to share this idea with your community, that they consider contributing a small amount (their “half shekel”) to the Rabbi’s (or Cantor’s) Discretionary Fund of your congregation, or make a contribution to the Jewish Community Federation, or the charitable organization/educational institutions of your choice. This is a thoughtful way to help those in our community (and beyond) who are experiencing financial emergencies, while we remember how our ancestors contributed to the Temple thousands of years ago. It shouldn’t be taxing… it should be from your heart.
Rabbi Enid C. Lader (AJR ’10) is the rabbi at Beth Israel – The West Temple, and is the current president of the Greater Cleveland Board of Rabbis.