by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"HaShem spoke to Moses saying, 'when you take a census from the children of
Israel according to their numbers... This is what they will give, all who
pass through the counting: one-half Shekel according to the sacred
Shekel...'" [30:11-12, 14]
The Chassidic Rebbes derive new lessons from the Torah by parsing the
verses in new ways, looking for alternate meanings in the words. My wife's
grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt"l, was no exception -- and,
like the famous Reb Levi of Berditchev, he also looked for the merits in
every Jewish soul.
He notes that verse 11 literally reads: "when you lift up the Children of
Israel according to their numbers." The word "pass through" in verse 14 can
also mean "to trespass," and the word used for counting also means
'command' [a 'pakud' can either mean something which is counted, or a
soldier -- perhaps because soldiers are counted]. Thus we can read the
phrase "all who pass through the counting" as "all who trespass the commands."
And Rav Hertzberg says: when you want to lift up the Children of Israel,
and acknowledge their value, do not look only at how well they observe the
rules of the Torah. Look also at their Shekalim, and how they give them
away. Look at their generosity. Then you will realize that "they will
give!" They give charity. This applies even to "all who trespass the
commands," those who did not observe the laws of the Torah. They give --
and you should recognize this merit. And it's true -- even the most
unaffiliated Jews care about their causes and give great sums to charity.
HaShem showed Moshe a Shekel of fire. Rav Hertzberg derives one lesson from
this, but I would like to look at another aspect. What happens when one
brings fire in contact with something which is glowing, but not yet
burning? The fire, of course, can cause the other object to light. Every
Jewish soul is a spark waiting to light -- and fire can help it to burst
forth. Both Tzedakah (charity) and Torah are compared to fire.
When one gives charity, he or she builds a connection between the giver and
the receiver. When one gives to other Jews and Jewish organizations, the
giver feels more connected with Jews and Judaism. Those who give to Israel,
care about Israel. The giving is not merely a sign that one cares --
rather, the giving also _causes_ the giver to care. Don't belittle "cardiac
Jews," even if they do little else than give to Jewish causes! The Jewish
heart beats within, maintaining a connection.
Marginally-affiliated Jews are leading supporters of hospitals,
universities, services for inner-city youth, and other charities of all
kinds. If we encourage them to support Jewish causes as well, then we can
help retain their connection to Judaism for future generations.
Thus charitable giving should be encouraged in all its aspects. Recently,
tragically, some have actually discouraged giving to Israel, except to
organizations which support their own agendas. They applied this even to
service organizations where ideology shouldn't come into play. Let us avoid
the politics -- I think we all take into account the credos of
organizations we support, when those organizations exist in order to
advance a credo. But these calls have gone further: "No money should be
given to _any_ person or organization that cannot state to your
satisfaction that they support [our ideology]" [emphasis added to this
quote from a Jewish web site]. I think we must question: should an
orphanage be subject to an ideological litmus test? Are crutches and
wheelchairs only "kosher" when we like the Rabbi handing them out? One
would think a negative response was obvious.
Don't think that the Israeli poor will be the losers. American Jews who
follow this 'advice' will lose. As Mordechai said to Esther: "if you
stubbornly keep silent at a moment like this, relief and rescue will come
for the Jews from another place -- and you and your father's house will
perish." [5:14] Giving to Jewish causes must be _encouraged_ in a world
where Jewish hearts are fading, where assimilation is the raging fire which
must be fought with the fire of Tzedakah, and the fire of Torah.
Let us, rather, work together. Israel has many causes which anyone can
support, devoid of political agendas. The absorption of Russian Jews is
hardly a fait accompli. To our great sorrow, the orphanage business is
doing entirely too well. And because these are _Jewish_ children, we
connect ourselves to Jews, to Israel, to Judaism, by helping them. And if
we encourage all to give, who knows what sparks we might bring to light,
right here at home!