In this week’s combined reading of two portions, the Torah summarizes the accomplishments of the nation by detailing the work that was done by Betzalel and his host of artisans and craftsmen who were filled with Heavenly spirit.
The Torah triumphantly declares the success of the campaign and the generosity of the donors by announcing that “the work (and contributions) had been enough for all the work, to do it — and there was extra” (Exodus 36:7). In the Torah, the Divine document whose preciseness stimulates discussion on its extra drops of ink, the expression, “There was enough for the completion of the task and there was extra,” seem quite contradictory.
Last year, I pointed out the strange juxtaposition of contradictory terms. After all, if there was enough, then there was not extra. And if there was extra then it should not be called enough! The Torah could just well have stated , “There were extra contributions of work and material for the work that was needed.” It seems that though what was given amounted to enough, for some reason it was considered extra. How?
It was a cold Chicago winter night back in early 1951. The State of Israel Bonds annual dinner was hosting none other than Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as the guest of honor and featured speaker. The ballroom was packed. The non-kosher event attracted members of Chicago’s wealthiest business and professional secular Jewish leadership, all who braved the frigid temperatures to support the fledgling state. They hovered around the ballroom, offering contributions at a rapid-fire pace, while carefully balancing both their martinis and checkbooks.
There was nary a yarmulke in sight. However, one individual, who stood in a corner of the massive lobby, outside the ballroom, was markedly unique. He wore a long dark caftan and sported a large black fedora. His beard encircled a face that was lined with the creases of hours of Torah study. His piercing eyes darted about the scene, observing the philanthropic flurry of activity. An ancient relic tucked in the corner of a sea of modernity, he stood stoically, observing the entire scenario, a slight smile emanating from his lips.
He was about to leave the hotel and return to the Yeshiva at which he taught when a loud voice boomed from behind him. “Rabbi Mendel Kaplan! What bring you to the Israeli Bonds Dinner?”
Rav Mendel turned around. He stood face to face with one of Chicago’s wealthiest philanthropists. Though a very secular Jew, the man was still a major supporter of the Yeshiva at which Rabbi Kaplan was employed. Rabbi Kaplan was known in the Yeshiva as quite a zealous individual who disapproved of many of the policies surrounding the Labor party and the Prime Minister, and so, baffled, the man continued his mocking inquisition.
“Surely you did not come to pay your respects to the Prime Minister and join us in this event!” He added sarcastically. Then he broke into a wider grin. “I am positive you did not come here to partake in a little shellfish!” The man let out a slight guffaw.
Rabbi Kaplan did not return the tease. Instead, his answer was open, honest, and quite blunt. “I came here for one reason,” he began, “to stand and watch how the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stand in line in order to give charity.”
Some people give. They give and leave. The impact of their gift is felt only as far as the dollar will go. When the food is finished, the clothing worn, or the dollars spent, the donation becomes interred into the pile of good deeds relegated to history. Of course, the impact lives on, generating futures, but the giving is confined, even stinted, with no impact that exceeds the actual gift.
But there is another type of giving. Its act has more impact than the dollars could buy. Its enthusiasm sweeps a wave of goodwill with it. It becomes an anchor for others to emulate. It inspires, it enthuses, and it stimulates. The charitable act may consist of a paltry sum, but the enthusiasm contains much more. Perhaps that is what the Torah meant, “It was enough and more.” Monetarily, may be it was just enough. But the impact of the first collection of charitable contribution is what inspired generations of Jews to stand in line and give continuously. It inspired them to built the Bais HaMikdash, it inspired them to redeem captives, to build Yeshivos, to furnish hospitals and to support the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. True, what the Jews gave thousands of years ago was just enough, but history tells us, it was more.
Refuah Shlaima to Yehuda Boruch ben Sora Menucha
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.