Friday, March 10, 2023

Building a Foundation

No donation is too big, and no donation is too small. Every organization that needs to fundraise to operate has lived by this statement in one way or another. With some donors, the message needs to be that we appreciate every donation, no matter how small. With other donors, the message needs to be that we need more significant gifts to sustain and fuel the organization's success.  With that in mind, the beginning of our Parsha teaching us about the obligation to contribute to Machtzis Hashekel/ Half Shekel is quite bizarre. The Torah states that a wealthy person may not increase his contribution, and the poor may not ask for a scholarship. This defies any conventional fundraising that seeks to maximize donations from the affluent and will give the folks with limited means a break. (There was an additional reason for contributing a half shekel as that would indicate the population's size, which might explain the half shekel. Nonetheless, there might be another way to conduct a census without everyone contributing a half shekel!) It's instructive to note that the contributions of the silver half-shekel coins were applied to the making of the sockets or אדנים. The sockets had two openings in which the planks or קרשים were placed. These sockets were essentially functioning as the foundation of the Mishkan as it was literally upholding the Mishkan. There is a profound lesson on community building that can be learned from the lesson of the Half Shekel contributions. When it comes to any area of Jewish communal life, one should contribute according to their means. However, when laying down a foundation for the community, all must be equal participants. If only the more affluent people contribute, then those with more limited means will not be as invested. Everyone needs to have "skin in the game". The Torah teaches that giving and sharing our financial resources with a worthy cause is an opportunity for the donor as he has the ability to have the mitzvah of helping others. As the Talmud teaches, G-d could have easily provided for all the needy directly. He created this paradigm of donors and recipients for the donor to have the opportunity to give. This applies in all areas of Tzedaka but especially when creating a foundation for the community. Times may have changed but the lesson of the half-shekel is more pertinent than ever. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, March 3, 2023

Why is this happening to me?

Why me? Why, G-d, is this happening to me? These words are rarely, if ever, uttered when something amazing happens to an individual! For example, if someone gets a great promotion at work with an increased salary or gets married to a most special person, are these words uttered?  The expression of "Why me?" or "Why is this happening to me" are reserved for what we perceive as cruel fate. Why do I have to deal with this particular hardship or painful experience? There are macro events on the global stage and micro events in our daily lives that cause undue stress. It is precisely at these moments that we may ponder the unfairness of our fate in life. Can we be honest with ourselves and recall if we had similar thoughts of "Why, me" during a truly wonderful moment in our lives? Perhaps subconsciously, I think we expect perfection in virtually all areas of life. When we receive blessings and good fortune, we attribute that to our hard work or exceptional talent. When things do not unfold that way, we are disappointed with G-d and others for letting us down. The disappointment leads to us living an existence devoid of happiness and joy. So many of us barely exist as we lament the terrible fortune and raw luck that life has thrown our way.  The month of Adar and the Purim story can teach us much about attaining Simcha (happiness) in difficult situations. Our rabbis have taught us to increase our joy once Adar is here. So what is it about Adar and Purim that should trigger happy thoughts? After all, other miraculous events occurred in different months that don't call for happiness.  The story of Purim is unique in the biblical context as it's the only book that doesn't mention the name of G-d. There was immense darkness during that era as a genocidal plot to exterminate Jews was hatched and nearly carried out. The heroes of the story, Mordechai and Esther, rose to the occasion at the right moments and demonstrated faith and bravery on behalf of their people. The Megila records that after the evil decree was averted, the Jews of that era experienced Simcha. On a superficial level, it means that they were happy and relieved that they lived to tell the tale. On a deeper level, the Simcha they experienced was internalizing this idea that the blessings and challenges in our lives are part of our life's journey and greater destiny. There were various critical moments in the Purim story that Mordechai and Esther could have easily stated, “Why, me.” Truly great people do not ask those questions, nor does it deprive them of simcha during difficult times. Especially in dark moments, we must realize that we are not the victims of cruel fate. If there is even one lesson to learn from the Purim story, I suggest that we remember that true Simcha does not mean having a pain-free life. True Simcha is a recognition that everything that occurs, good and otherwise, is there as tools to ultimately enhance our journey in life and bring us closer to our tikkun and destiny. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Building a Foundation

No donation is too big, and no donation is too small. Every organization that needs to fundraise to operate has lived by this statement in o...