Midreshet Amit


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Too Much Giving

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

Judaism's close relationship with fund raising dates back to the first weeks of our peoplehood. The Mishkan had to be built and a capital campaign commenced. Amazingly enough, the campaign to build the Mishkan was like none other in history, and the problem faced by Moshe was like no other in the history of fundraising: "The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do. So Moses commanded, and they announced in the camp, saying: Let no man or woman do any more work for the offering for the Holy. So the people stopped bringing. And the work was enough ("dayam") for them for all the work, to do it—and to leave over (v'hoteir) (Shemot 36:5-7).

How are we to understand this strange reaction. What was wrong with too much giving? The Sefas Emes addresses this issue and explains. Moshe felt that once the people had given more than was necessary, they were revealing that there intention for giving was not purely for the sake of the Mishkan but rather for their own self aggrandizement. Had the giving been truly for the sake of Heaven, they would have stopped giving the moment there was sufficient material to build the Mishkan.

Sometimes, a person gives in order to be recognized for his or her philanthropy. Moshe was not going to allow that to happen in the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was the place where Bnei Yisrael were to come to show humility towards Hashem. It was not going to be a place for them to pat themselves on the back. And although the Gemara says: it is better to do a mitzvah shelo l'shma than not to so it at all, this standard was not acceptable to Moshe, at least in this context.

Interestingly enough, the Or Hachaim provides an opposite approach. He first raises a textual problem. The verse says that "the work was enough ("dayam") for them for all the work, to do it—and to leave over (v'hoteir)" which prompted him to ask: was it just enough—dayam, or more than enough—hoteir? His resolution is quite creative. He explains that the people brought an overabundance of material out of their love of Hashem and zest to do a mitzvah. So what was the problem? Hashem knew that if there was more than enough material, some of the givers would feel disappointed that their gifts were not put to use. It was Hashem's sensitivity to the needs of the givers that made the overabundance problematic. Therefore, Hashem miraculously contracted the "extra" material into the "sufficient".

These two approaches may sound like opposites, but they are in fact complimentary, as they reflect two sides of a relationship. The Sfas Emes's approach reflects how we should relate to Hashem and to tzedaka. A Jew's job is to realize that tzedaka is not a means of making our selves feel good. It is not even to be viewed as a favor we do for someone else. After all, David Hamelech reminded us that Lashem Haaretz umloah—the world is Hashem's. He made us custodians of His resources. Thus, tzedaka is not kindness, it is justice. (If tzedaka were kindness, we'd call it chesed.) But Hashem, from the other side of the relationship does not view it that way. He saw our acts of charity and giving as acts of chesed. He appreciated our gifts and wanted no one to feel disappointed that their gift was going unused.

Together, the two approaches represent the model of what a relationship—either bein adam laMakom or bein adam l'chaveiro—should be; all about the other side.