This week's parsha
Unity and Monetary Purpose
In Fiddler on the Roof, a film filled with memorable moments, the scene of Perchick's proclamation, "Money is the world's curse" and Tevye's defiant reply, "May the Lord smite me with it," stands out as prominent. Indeed, money is the source of humanity's greatest friction. Most marital disputes revolve around money. Most disagreements brought before the world's courts are about financial matters.
Yet money is also a source of inspiration. Warren Buffet's 2006 announcement of his eighty-five billion dollar contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stands out as one of the noblest moments of the last decade. I don't know of a single act that inspired more philanthropy and generosity worldwide. Philanthropy begets philanthropy. Pledges of matching grants to charitable institutions rarely fail to inspire generosity on the part of others. Indeed, money can serve to ennoble and inspire.
Money is neither a curse nor a blessing. It is our attitude that determines the outcome. When we view money as an agent that provides our needs, comforts and luxuries, it inspires greed. And when others take an inordinately large slice, our own greed is triggered and we want more. But when others use money to spread happiness, blessing and goodwill, our entire perspective changes; their example inspires us to overcome our greed and to join them in their beneficence.
This is perhaps why Moses called for the entire nation to congregate before the Tabernacle was built. Having experienced an incredible moment at Sinai, where the nation melded into a single entity with total unity of purpose, Moses wanted to replicate this singularity in the Tabernacle. Moses knew that the single most potent barrier to unity is money and therefore addressed this barrier before all others.
Before announcing the fundraising campaign to build the Tabernacle, Moses shared a law, "You shall not kindle a fire in all your dwellings on the day of Shabbat." Though this law is somewhat irrelevant to the construction of the Tabernacle, it is most relevant to the unity of purpose that must precede it.
Fire is a metaphor for passion. Our passion on Shabbat must not be kindled by or invested in prosaic matters such as the beauty or security of our dwelling places. From Shabbat this ethic must spill over into the rest of the week. Money should not be viewed as an agent that provides the needs, comforts and luxuries of our dwelling places. Rather it is meant to be a vehicle through which holiness and goodwill are delivered. Our sages taught that gold was created to be used in the Tabernacle. Though we are entitled to keep the extra gold for ourselves, its primary purpose is not for pouring into our dwelling places, but to be used in the service of the Divine cause.
Fire carries an additional connotation. It serves as a metaphor for anger and divisiveness. When we recognize that money is a vehicle that serves the Divine cause in spreading holiness and goodwill, it ceases to be a source of friction between people and families. We stop fighting over the size of our respective slices of the pie and the fires of anger and divisiveness are not kindled in our dwelling places.
When our ancestors embraced this truth and were inspired to the heights of unity and collective generosity, Moses initiated the construction of the Tabernacle. The fundraising campaign was so successful that in the end donors were begged to stop contributing! Once they were taught the true import of money they stopped trying to hoard it and worked with their neighbors to distribute it.