I was driving home from work the other day list-ening to NPR when their pledge drive appeal came on the air. Local radio personalities explained that unlike television, newspapers or magazines, where you have to pay in advance for the service or subscription, Public Radio stations serve everyone without a fee. Their budgets rely on the generosity of listeners.
In this week’s parshah, Vayakhel, all the Israelites are invited to donate to the building of the mishkan, the holy tabernacle. “Moses said further to the whole community of Israelites: This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them — gifts for the Lord ...” (Ex. 37:4-5). It kind of sounds like an ancient version of a pledge drive although, admittedly, the Benefactor is quite different.
What is stunning about this process is not just that the Israelites then choose to give freely without being commanded or taxed, but that they give and give and give. In fact, they are so generous — even living in the desert with so little of their own — that one chapter later the artisans say to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed …” (Ex. 36:5). Moses immediately instructs the Israelites to stop bringing gifts. Can you imagine, whether for a Public Radio pledge drive or a synagogue’s capital campaign, people being so exce-edingly generous they would have to be asked to stop giving? What motivated such generosity then? How can we tap into that generous spirit today?
Even more significantly, I am astonished the artisans recognize they have all they need and refuse
to accept more. Could you ever conceive of hearing a charitable org-anization announcing they have
received enough donations and do not need anyone else to give? Of course not, because there is always something more, something great, that can be done with more resources.
In today’s culture, there always seems to be something else we could buy, if only we had a few more dollars. Extra money for NPR might enable a new show to be created. Extra dollars for a synagogue’s capital campaign might make possible the commissioning of inspiring art for the building. Worthy endeavors, to be sure. What would you do for some extra dollars in your pocket? There is always something more.
But this ethos of “more” is dangerous. If there is always something else to want, then it is hard to be satisfied with what we have. In Pirkei Avot, the rabbis ask, “Who is rich?” and answer “The one who is happy with his/her portion” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). Real wealth is not dependent on dollars in our bank accounts, but in satisfaction with our lot and lives. Like the artisans in the desert, we, too, can learn to see when we have enough. And when we inherit their vision we might inherit happiness, too.
Generally speaking, hunting for sport is strongly discouraged by Jewish tradition. Animals killed by hunters are considered treife as designated by the Book of Exodus (22:30). The Talmud discourages hunting, especially for sport (Chulin 60b), and hunting is placed in the category of cruelty to animals. Hunting and trapping for legitimate needs are permissible only when done in the least painful way possible.
Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg is director of educational engagement at the Center for Jewish Education.