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Torah Sparks

March 2, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 30:11-34:35; Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 30:11-31:17; Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523
Maftir: Numbers 19:1-22; Hertz, p. 652; Etz Hayim, p. 880
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38; Hertz, p. 999; Etz Hayim, p. 1286

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(30:11-16) Instructions concerning the contribution of the half shekel as a means of taking a census of men fit for military service.

(30:17-38) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the brass basin used for washing up before entering the Sanctuary and the manufacture of the anointing oil and the holy incense.

(31:1-11) Bezalel is appointed in charge of Tabernacle construction.

(31:12-17) A special warning regarding the sanctity of the Shabbat.

(31:18-32:6) God gives Moses the two tablets of the Covenant. Meanwhile, down in the Israelite camp, the people despair of Moses' return, and demand of Aaron that he make a "god" for them. The result is the Golden Calf.

(32:7-35) God tells Moses what the people are doing, and threatens to destroy them. Moses descends the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf, and in a fit of anger breaks the tablets. The actual worshipers of the calf, 3000 in number, are put to death. Moses intercedes for his people and ascends Mt. Sinai once again. He pleads with God, who relents from destroying the entire people, though He sends a plague as punishment.

(33:1-11) God tells Moses to lead the people toward the Promised Land and says that He will no longer dwell in their midst. The people must strip off their finery as an act of contrition. God continues to speak to Moses directly.

(33:12-23) Moses pleads to be able to see God as a confirmation both of his authority and his relationship with God, but that request is denied, "for a human may not see Me and live." God does promise that Moses will be able to see His "back," i.e., have an indirect manifestation of His Presence.

(34:1-9) Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation concerning God's Thirteen Attributes.

(34:10-26) The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, with further instruction concerning the keeping of the mitzvot.

(34:27-35) After forty days, Moses receives the second set of Tablets. He comes down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Investigating The Charities To Which We Give"

This shall they give... a half shekel of the sacred shekel. (30:13)

  1. In commemoration of this commandment, on Purim, it is customary to contribute half of one's country standard coin to a communal charity, as an expression of the concept that everyone has an equal responsibility to participate in meeting the community's needs.
  2. Whoever sees a poor person asking (for assistance) and ignores him and does not give him tzedakah has transgressed a negative commandment as it is written in Deut. 15:7: "Do not harden your heart, nor shut your hand against your needy brother" (M. Maimonides, Gifts to the Poor, 7:2)
  3. Rabbi Abin said: The poor person stands at your door and the Holy One blessed be He stands at his right hand as it is written in Psalms 109:31: "He stands at the right hand of the needy". (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 34:9)
  4. Rabbi Nahman said: This world is like a water wheel - the bucket that is full empties while the empty becomes full.
  5. Our sages were not blind. They knew that some beggars were frauds... (and yet some) were duped by dishonest beggars as in the case of Rabbi Hanina who was accustomed to sending four zuz to a certain poor person every Erev Shabbat (Friday evening). One time he sent the money with his wife. She returned and said to him, "There is no need... I overheard them say: 'On what will you dine - on the linen tablecloths or on the dyed silk ones?'" (Talm. Ketubot 67b-68a)
  6. Whoever does not need to take yet takes, will not depart the world until he is dependent on others... and whoever is not lame or blind and pretends to be, will not die of old age before he becomes like one of them, as it is written in Proverbs 11:27: "He who seeks evil, upon him it will come" (Mishnah, Pe'ah 8,9)
  7. Rabbi Abbah did not want to embarrass the poor by having to look at them, following the principle of mattan baseter (giving in secret) but he was wary of cheaters. He, therefore, would wrap some coins in his kerchief and drag it behind him as he walked by the houses of the poor. As the coins fell out he carefully kept his eyes open for cheaters. (Ket. 67b)
  8. A person should not give a penny to the communal charity purse unless it is under the supervision of a person (as honest as) R. Hananyah ben Teradyon. (Talm. Bava Batra 10b)
  9. One does not need to investigate honest collectors. But in order that they be "clean before the Lord and before Israel" (Numbers 32:22), it is good for them to give an accounting. (Shulhan Arukh YD 257:2)
  10. Giving tzedakah is good, but giving wisely is even better. Danny Siegel writes: " do not want to give to wasteful organizations. On the other hand, you would not want to withhold useful, perhaps critical tzedakah money from people who are laboring with love and care to make good things happen in this world. (D. Siegel, "Which Tzedakah...", Baltimore Jewish Times, Feb. 8, 1991)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

A bag lady accosts me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and asks me for a quarter, Should I ask her why she doesn't go out and get a job?

A "schnorer" (charity collector) knocks on my door, holds out a letter signed by an eminent rabbi and asks me to contribute to a yeshivah in Jerusalem. Should I check out the letter and the yeshivah?

I enter my local Jewish bookstore and see five "pushkes" on the counter. Should I automatically put in a quarter in each, or should I read the fine print and investigate each charity's legitimacy?

Lastly, I receive many direct mail solicitations every month. Should I send a small donation to each, or investigate every charity that asks for money and send a larger contribution to the one that deserves it most?

(NOTE: Rabbi David Golinkin's booklet, "Responsa in a Moment: Halachic Responses to Contemporary Issues", pp. 51-56 for the halachic responsum given to the above questions.)

Some Further Questions:

How concerned are you that a huge amount of money raised in some Jewish organizations is used for expenses? Just how bad is it, in your opinion?

How do you feel about the way money raised for Israel is distributed among the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform entities there?

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