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Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת תרומה, תשפ״א

Parshat T'rumah, 5781

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

When Our Hearts Draw us to Give

When someone asks me where to donate as a gift for my birthday, the first place that comes to mind is the Jerusalem SPCA - צער בעלי חיים ירושלים. When I lived in Israel the two years after graduating college, I spent hours each Friday walking dogs at that no-kill animal shelter beyond the green line. It was there that I got my much-needed animal fix. It was there that I honed my Modern Hebrew. Through becoming friends with volunteers from so many different sections of Israeli society, and through witnessing the conflict between the Israeli shelter managers and their Arab neighbors, it was there that I learned more about Israel than I did in any class, tour, or lecture.

While world Jewry today takes pride in donating to Israeli social and political causes, we don’t often think about donating to benefit Israeli animal rights. As a result of lack of funds and of stigma against dogs in some segments of Arab and Orthodox Jewish culture, the Jerusalem SPCA is constantly struggling to keep its hundreds of dogs and cats well fed and cared for. Years after returning to the United States, I still support צער בעלי חיים ירושלים because of my personal, emotional connection to the organization.

While so much of God’s Torah commands us to give certain sacrifices at certain times, God steps back in Parashat Terumah and suggests that the people give towards the construction of the mishkan, the Tabernacle, according to their hearts:

דבר את בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את תרומתי

Speak to the children of Israel and tell them that they shall take gifts to me. From every person whose heart so moves him, you shall take gifts for me (Exodus 25:2). In order to build our Torah’s most sacred structure, the people Israel rely on free-will donations. So, too, the taxes we’re obligated to pay as citizens of this state and country are not enough to sustain our society. This world runs, in large part, thanks to contributions given from the heart, contributions given to organizations we care about for personal and emotional reasons.

As Purim approaches, we embrace the custom of מתנות לאביונים, giving gifts to the poor. The ideal way to fulfill this mitzvah is through approaching two or more individuals in need and handing them gifts in the form of food. In a time in which we are still embracing social distancing, whether or not you have the opportunity to engage in such personal giving, you can still donate monetarily to two or more organizations that have touched your heart. Over Purim next week, we’ll list the organizations you’ve mentioned between chapters of megillah, so that we as a community can inspire each other to give to causes that pull on our particular experiences.

We support some of these organizations because of how they have affected or inspired us, and we support some because of how they have affected or inspired our loved ones. Regardless, we choose to give because we are called to do so by our values and emotions - ידנבו לבנו. We celebrate on Purim by giving because we know that we could not have gotten to our current joy and success without the financial and action-based contributions of so many before us, from those of Esther and Mord’khai to those of our favorite organizations. Shabbat Shalom.