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February 14, 2013 - Image 43

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-02-14

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>> Torah portion

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Parshat Terumah: Exodus 25:1-27:19;
I Kings 5:26-6:13.

p

rofessor Jacob Neusner, in his
book Tzedakah: Can Jewish
Philanthropy Buy Jewish
Survival? writes that: Tzedakah for
many is a way of being Jewish ... That
is at it should be ... Tzedakah is the
highest expression of the holy way of
living taught by Torah.
Neusner goes on to
explain that tzedakah, more
than any of the other prac-
tices of Judaism, is the ritual
that truly unites the Jewish
people. Though many Jews
will light Chanukah candles
and/or attend a Passover
seder, an even higher
number will put coins in a
pushke more than once a
year or write a check to a
charity.
The Torah's central focus on the
obligation to part with some of our
money can be divided into three types
of giving:
1. The Half Shekel, which we read
about last Shabbat in the special maft-
ir, and we will revisit in two weeks in
parshat Ki Tisa. This collection, which
served both as a fund for Temple
repairs and as a census, was a "tax"
imposed equally on every household
of Israel. Rich and poor paid the same
amount. This is similar to paying for
one's driver's license — everyone is
charged the same fee.
2. The Maaser, literally "one-tenth"
and often translated as "tithe this
gift to the Levites and the needy was
imposed on ancient Israel according to
one's capacity to give. Since the maaser
is based on what one has, it follows
that the rich paid more and the poor
paid less. This gift is similar to our
income tax.
3. The Terumah. In this week's
parshah, we read of the gift Israelites
were asked to provide for the building
of the first portable sanctuary. Unique
to the terumah is the request that
every Israelite gives asher yidvenu libo
— what his/her heart desires. This is
analogous to modern examples of giv-
ing that is totally voluntary.
Synagogue boards struggle with
the question of which of these bibli-

cal means of giving will best keep the
doors open at our houses of worship.
Some choose the route of the half shek-
el, charging the same amount to every
member. Some take the approach of
the maaser, basing annual dues accord-
ing to a percentage of income. There
are even "brave" synagogue
leaders who employ the
terumah model, and allow
each congregant to name his/
her own price.
One might suppose that
relying solely on voluntary
payments would doom
one's financial future, yet
we shouldn't be so quick to
jump to that conclusion.
Take, for example, the
wonderful example of Panera
Cares, an offshoot of the
Panera Bread company. Panera Cares
looks like every other Panera loca-
tion — there are bagels, sandwiches,
soups and salads, and free Wi-Fi. But
at Panera Cares, customers choose how
much to pay, or if to pay at all (and
instead, volunteer to work for an hour).
According to its website: Panera
Cares community cafes were created
to make a difference ... to help address
hunger while also maintaining a per-
son's dignity.
You might think that with optional
payments, Panera Cares would quickly
go out of business. Surprisingly, or
perhaps not, most customers pay the
suggested amount" and some even
pay more than is expected. So even
with those customers who pay little or
nothing, the giving of the heart, the
spirit of the terumah is alive and well.
FYI, one of the nation's five locations
of Panera Cares is in Dearborn. ❑

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Elliot Pachter is the rabbi of Congregation
B'nai Moshe, and a Bible Instructor and
director of student services at the Frankel

Jewish Academy, both in West Bloomfield.

Conversations

Do you pre-set an amount to
give to tzedakah each year?
Would doing so increase or
decrease the amount you give?

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February 14 • 2013

43

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