Can you imagine living in a world without giving? Giving is a ubiquitous part of living in our Jewish communities and, from an early age, we teach our children that giving is a fundamental value of Judaism. We are, as a community, givers.
In 2012, a study of American Jews, by Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim at Brandeis University, found that 76 percent of Jewish households gave to a variety of charities compared with 63 percent of non-Jewish households. It is hard for me to believe that British Jewish households are any different.
There are some great socio-economic reasons for giving, but I would like to look at a historical one.
In this week’s parasha, the Jews of the desert are asked to give to the building of the tabernacle (mishkan).
We can all recognise a capital project when presented to us, but I don’t think we can actually understand what was being asked of our desert–pedestrian brethren.
The newly-formed Jewish nation had never owned anything outright: it was a nation of slaves. What they had with them in the desert was newly acquired. How could they now be asked to part with the first material comforts they had enjoyed in more than 200 years?
God teaches us a lesson in fundraising at this point. He asks for “an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity”. He asks that the donation be freely given.
God says the only way to break off the shackles of slavery, both physical and emotional, is to give; but that giving needs to come from within.
Freely. So much so that Moses has to ask them to stop, for oversupply!
Our DNA as a people is forged in the choices we make. Once freed, we decide on how to act freely.
Becoming givers is who we are from the moment of our inception as a people.
υ Ilana is rebbetzen at Cockfosters & N Southgate United
Synagogue and founder of Ta’am, a Jewish Futures organisation exploring Jewish history and heritage through food