Politics & Parsha: Vayakhel 5771: Thanks, But No Thanks

Posted on February 25, 2011 In Archives

Politics & the Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

VaYakhel 5771: Thanks, But No Thanks

“Generous deed should not be checked by cold counsel.” Depending on if you read the book or watched the movie, the character speaking differs, but the words, in any event, are J.R.R. Tolkien’s. They are also, remarkably like the lesson G-d models in this week’s Torah portion.

The Tabernacle building campaign remains the envy of fundraisers everywhere. The smiths and craftsmen under Betzalel’s charge came to Moses with a complaint: the people were too generous. They were donating too much. There was a surplus. “Tell them to stop giving.”

And so by command of Moses, the people of Israel were told to stand down in their philanthropy. There was so much material, the Bible says it was enough and more.

One of the commentaries on the Bible, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, known as the Ohr HaChaim, writes that as it is either enough or it is more, but certainly it cannot be both enough and more than enough, the Bible must be hinting at a greater lesson. Despite there being more material than actually necessary for the Tabernacle and its utensils, the Lord found a use for everything everyone donated. Even if, strictly speaking, it wasn’t really needed. Kind of the way parents always find a prominent use for the child’s preschool projects and grandchildren always accept one more candy even if they really don’t want it (it happens).

Because G-d knows all too well that it’s never good to tell someone their donation – of time, spirit or money – isn’t needed. That’s both because it keeps the giver from offering again (and not only to you, but to any and all). As well, taking from someone else opens hearts – and softens them too – in those who receive. We must learn to accept gifts given: compliments, accolades, requests to share expertise, and plain old presents too.

The flip side is, that while we must learn to make use of gifts offered, we should not ask for things we don’t actually need. Betzalel’s artisans told Moses they didn’t need more and asked that donations cease. We need to say, before a gift is given, your gifts are great, but there’s maybe a better use for them.

This happens; all too infrequently, but it does happen. I remember the letter as it were yesterday. A nonprofit organization – it matters not which – sent out a reverse direct mail pitch. They thanked their donors for their past generosity, and then – wait for it – they announced they had fulfilled their mission and were no longer needed. They were – pick your phrase: winding down, closing up shop, going out of business.

People bearing gifts should never be turned away but neither should unneeded requests be made of donors, friends, members or even taxpayers. That balance of accepting things offered, but also knowing when to say no thank you, is vital in our communal endeavors, in our personal lives and in our government’s functions.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.