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The Weekly Parsha

Torah Parsha, Pekudei

 

Pekudei has sometimes been called “The Accountant’s Parsha” because that is how it begins, with the audited accounts of the money and materials donated to the Mishkan. It is the Torah’s way of teaching us the need for financial transparency.

 

But beneath the sometimes-dry surface lie two extraordinary stories, one told in last week’s parsha, the other the week before, teaching us something deep about Jewish nature that is still true today.

 

The first has to do with the Mishkan itself. God told Moshe to ask people to make contributions. From gold and silver to wood and precious stones. What was remarkable was the willingness with which they gave. They reached a point where they brought too much. Moshe had to tell them to stop! This is a new side of Bnei Yisrael. A generous and giving group, in contrast to the Bnei Yisrael we have become accustomed to seeing: argumentative, quarrelsome, and ungrateful. 

 

One parsha earlier, in Ki Tissa, we read a very different story. The people were anxious. Moshe had been up the mountain for a long time. Was he still alive? Had some accident happened to him? If so, how would the people receive the Divine word telling them what to do and where to go? Hence, their demand for an oracle, an object through which Divine instruction could be heard.

 

According to the most favoured explanation, Aharon realised that he could not stop the people directly by refusing their request, so he adopted a stalling manoeuvre. He asked them to donate their gold jewellery towards the project, with the intention of slowing them down, trusting that if the work could be delayed, Moshe would reappear.

 

The Midrash explains that Aharon assumed this would create arguments within families and the project would be delayed. Instead, immediately thereafter, without a pause, Bnei Yisrael demonstrated that same generosity. 

 

Now, these two projects could not be less alike. One, the Mishkan, was holy. The other, the Golden Calf, was close to being an idol. Building the Mishkan was a supreme mitzvah; making the Calf was a terrible sin. Yet their response was the same in both cases. Jews may not always make the right choices in what they give to, but they always give.

 

In the twelfth century, The Rambam, speaking about tzedakah, said, “We have never seen or heard about a Jewish community that does not have a charity fund.” (see Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 9:3)

 

The idea that a Jewish community could exist without a network of charitable provisions was almost inconceivable. A disposition to donate is written into Jewish genes; it’s part of our inherited DNA. It is one of the signs of being a child of Avraham, so much so that if someone does not give tzedakah, there are “grounds to suspect his lineage.” Whether this is nature or nurture or both, to be Jewish is to give.

 

There is a fascinating feature of the geography of the land of Israel. It contains two seas: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is full of life. The Dead Sea, as its name implies, is not. Yet they are fed by the same river, the Jordan. The key difference is that the Sea of Galilee receives water and gives water. The Dead Sea receives but does not give. To receive but not to give is, in Jewish geography as well as Jewish psychology, simply not life.

 

So it was in the time of Moshe. So it is today. In virtually every country in which Jews live, their charitable giving is out of all proportion to their numbers. In Judaism, to live is to give.

- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

WRJC Abbreviated Siddur (Prayerbook)

WRJC has created a Shabbat prayer book (Siddur) which we have typically used during the summer for Shabbat services at the Botanical Garden (or at members' houses).

As we experiment with providing hybrid (Zoom and in person) Shabbat services, the Ritual Committee recommended using the Summer Siddur as an aid for those attending the services via Zoom.  

2022-09-14 Summer Siddur.jpg
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