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June 26, 2006
The Giving of Gifts

By Katy Allen

The Glory of the Lord dwelt upon Mount Sinai, hidden within a cloud’and God called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Then the Glory of the Lord appeared’as a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Ex. 24.16’18)

While Moses is in this cloud, God speaks to him. The first thing God tells Moses is that he should tell the people ‘ those whose hearts so move them’to bring gifts. God then lists the gifts they should bring: among them are gold and silver, copper, yarn, linen, ram skins, and acacia wood.

How will all these gifts be used? God describes it all in intricate detail. They are to be used to build a sanctuary so that God may dwell among the people.

Meanwhile, during the time that Moses is on the mountain with God, what do the people do? Do they wait patiently? Are they excited? Are they filled with anticipation? No. On the contrary, they fret and grow fearful. They doubt. And ultimately, they lose patience and build the Golden Calf.

And so, Moses will end up breaking the tablets that God sends down the mountain with him, and Moses will have to go up the mountain a second time and bring down a second set of tablets, and only then will the people receive from God luchot ha’edut, the tablets of the Pact, and only then, many chapters later, will they actually be able to bring the gifts that God is now telling Moses to tell the people ‘ those whose hearts are so moved ‘ to bring.

What does it mean to be moved to bring a gift in response to God’s request? What is the source of all the gifts? How will different kinds of gifts be used?

The gifts in this Torah portion are all concrete ‘ precious items that the people possess. But what is their source? The people do not create them. Some of them, such as the yarn, they may form from other existing matter (in this case wool), but they do not create that existing matter. All of the items they are to bring have their source in God’s creation. The gifts that the people will bring are gifts that God previously gave to

through the creation of the world. They are all part of the natural world. And by bringing them to Moses to be used to build a sanctuary, the people are returning to God what God gave to them, and the result will be that God will dwell amongst them.

But in the meantime, they are afraid. They doubt. They lose patience.

Giving gifts that God has given to us is not an easy thing. It is frightening. It is scary. God gives us not only the natural world’which we often abuse’but also other, less tangible gifts. God often gives us the gift of blessing, the gift of a comfortable life, the gift of love, and many other gifts. Yet, like the Israelites, we may be afraid. We may be doubtful. We may lose patience.

Is that what we should be doing? Or, as with the Israelites, is that only going to delay our being able to give back the gifts that we have received? Every gift we receive in this world is something that we need to give back, for only by doing so will ‘God dwell amongst us.’

God only requested that the people give gifts after God redeemed the people from bondage; the ability and opportunity to give is a sign of being free. Yet, like the Israelites, despite our freedom, so many things stand in the way of our being able to give back the gifts we have received:

  • We may not even realize that we have received a gift. We may be so busy complaining about the problems in our lives that we don’t see the gifts. If we don’t know we have them, how can we give them away?
  • We may be frightened by our gifts because of the responsibility they bring with them. In our fear, we may find it easier to blame other people for how they are behaving than to look within ourselves and find the courage to take on a new responsibility.
  • We may feel that we are unworthy and so believe that the gift cannot possibly be real. By hiding behind our sense of unworthiness, we can protect ourselves from the need to take on responsibility.
  • We can look around us and think that others have so much more than we have, and conclude that they should be giving us gifts rather than the other way around. In this way, we can feel superior by thinking that they are being greedy, when in fact we ourselves are the greedy ones.
  • We may be afraid of the risks involved in giving away our gifts. We may think that if we give them away, they will be gone, they will disappear, and we will have nothing. We forget that these gifts were not ours to begin with, and that only by giving them away can we get them back again.

    So, this year, while we wait for Moses to come down from the mountain and to return from his encounter with God, let us not build golden calves. Rather, let us have courage. Let us remember that God is telling Moses that we are to bring gifts with which to build a sanctuary. Let us trust that when we have given our gifts and finished building our sanctuary, God will dwell among us.

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