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Give Diamonds

This week we read about the building of the tabernacle. God commands Moses: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (Exodus 25)

Gifts, most especially those intended for the building of the sanctuary, should come from the heart. They should not be coerced (or even commanded?) but freely given.

The Torah continues: “And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, 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 for the breastpiece.”

That’s quite an exhaustive list. I wonder. How can gifts that are supposed to be freely given come from such a detailed list? If they are indeed gifts of the heart, shouldn’t the giver decide what to give, rather than the recipient?

“Dear Susie, I know you said you wanted diamonds for your birthday, but I decided to give you some lapis lazuli instead.” How do you think that is going to go over? Even though Susie likes lapis lazuli if she is expecting (suggested?) diamonds then most would agree that this would not be a good decision on my part. Giving a gift is not so much about the object itself but instead about bringing joy, and happiness, to the recipient.

God knows what God wants. And while we may not associate the giving of material things to God, perhaps God’s intention is not the accumulation of objects but that the gift giver achieves a measure of holiness by fulfilling God’s wishes. Our freedom only finds meaning in relationship to something greater. It is not about getting to do, or give, whatever one wants. It is instead about fulfilling God’s desire and pledging one’s heart to the recipient’s wishes.

This is not to suggest that Judaism’s ideal is some mystical notion in which one’s freedom, and desires, are completely negated and entirely subsumed in God. Our freedom is about choosing to do what God wants of us and deciding to do what someone else wishes of us.

We gain something of value by giving.

Too often people think that gift giving is all about the recipient and nothing about the giver. In fact, the Torah’s word for gift is terumah which comes from the Hebrew to elevate. The Hasidic rabbi, Levi Yitzhak of Berdechev, makes clear what the Hebrew only implies. This means that gift giving elevates the giver to a higher level.

When the intention of the giver aligns with that of the recipient the gift becomes a true gift of the heart. It does not matter if the wish list is said out loud or commanded from on high, when giving gifts both giver and recipient are uplifted.

We are elevated by our giving.




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