The Charity Solution
Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )
A poor man once came to my house, and my first wife (a"h) answered the door. She was very suspicious of the story he told, but at the same time, didn't want to send away someone in need. So she gave him a small amount. He took the money, but said he was starving as he hadn't eaten in days and needed more money to buy some food. My wife, ever the resourceful one, said that if he waited just a minute she would make him some sandwiches. He said that he didn't want sandwiches, he wanted money! She said that surely if he was starving, sandwiches would be better. At that point, he left in search of greener pastures. He was starving, but clearly not starving enough to want to eat!
When the Jewish people, in this week's portion, are asked to donate funds for the Tabernacle, they are not asked for money. Rather, they are asked for materials - gold, silver, bronze, cloth, wood, etc.
I think this and the story with my wife illustrate the same principle: When giving charity, it is very easy to write a check and say goodbye. The Torah tells us that this is not what charity should be about. Charity is not about giving money; it is about solving problems: It is about taking responsibility.
God tells the Jewish people: Don't write your charity checks out to Moses and expect him to go shopping with the money. The Tabernacle is your responsibility as much as it is his. Figure out what is needed and bring it. Similarly, when a man who is starving comes to your door, don't give him money and make him go off to buy food - give him a meal. When a man needs $10,000 for an operation, don't give him $1000 and send him off to find the rest. Call nine of your friends and solve the problem. Charity is not just about "lightening the burden" that another is carrying; it is about taking the burden away.
Another mistake people make is to think: If I'm not wealthy, I can't give charity. Money is a small part of what we have to give to charity. Time, energy, support, love and friendship usually mean a great deal more. In addition to giving 10% of our income to help others, we should also give 10% of our time.
When involved in my very unfavorite activity of fundraising, I often tell people that the problems of the Jewish community are yours, just as much as they are mine. Don't write me a check and say goodbye. I won't let you get off the hook that easy! Get involved and work to solve the problems of the Jewish community alongside me.
Charity is about taking personal responsibility for a problem. Whether giving a starving man food, or providing materials for the Tabernacle. It's not just about money. It's about solutions.