The first fundraiser

The first fundraiser

Sara Rae Perman
Sara Rae Perman

Vayakhel Pekudei

Exodus 35:1 — 40:38

In the Jewish community, we are used to having fundraising campaigns. It is not something unique to the American scene.

One can look throughout Jewish history and see that there are times our communities were called upon to raise funds to ransom captives (for which you may even sell a Torah), to provide dowries for brides and to support the Temple of old.

This week’s Torah portion could be seen as the first such fundraising activity.  We read beginning in Exodus 35:4, “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 — fits for the Lord: gold, silver and copper; blue purple and crimson yarns, fine linen and goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins and acacia wood; oil for lighting; spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breast piece.”

We are told the people responded, everyone: men and women, bringing all that Moses asked for, as well as, their skills to create the Tabernacle, the portable place of worship in the desert.  

There is a question of where they got all those goods in the desert, especially since they had been slaves in Egypt and how would slaves have gotten gold, silver and all the other materials mentioned in the Torah.  Elsewhere in Exodus (chapter 12, verse 35) we are told the Israelites “borrowed” (although the literal meaning is “asked”) from the Egyptians “objects of silver and gold and clothing.”  The rabbis understood this to be their “payment” for the close to 400 years the Israelites worked for the Egyptians.  In any case, it helps us understand from where the objects for building the Tabernacle came.

To me, the more interesting passage about this first fundraiser of the Jewish people is found later in Exodus 36:5-7.  There we are told that the artisans complain to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.”  Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” So the people stopped bringing; their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.

Can you imagine a fundraising campaign where you have to tell the people to stop giving?  Enough already!  Usually organizations and synagogues find it relatively easy to raise funds for a specific project, something that is tangible, like the Tabernacle of old.  People like to see their gifts going to a place or a building or a program that they can identify.  But once the project is built, it still needs funds to keep it going.  People like to point to the gold, silver, the physical items they gave or helped to create. Usually, they do not want to see that their funds are going to pay for the electricity, or the mailings, or the water or the garbage pickup, even though these are essential to keep our facilities operating or our programs going.  

Moses told the people, it was enough already, but in today’s world we know that it is not enough.  People still need to have their hearts moved, still need to give, still need to support our institutions and our community with both the gifts of their hearts and their hands.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)