More than 1 in 8 Americans struggles with hunger; and many in our own neighborhood. I recently heard a story from Principal Laureal Robinson at Spring Garden Elementary about a student who was putting some of her free school breakfasts and lunches in her backpack to take home because her family did not have enough money to buy groceries last month. The faces of hunger in America are both familiar and hidden from view, yet they are all too real and far too many.
When, in Exodus 25:1-2, Torah tells us “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved,” the text manages to be both inclusively open and exclusively specific. We tend today to read this invitation as an equalizer; no matter the gift, God will accept it. The most important quality of the gift is the zeal of the giver to share it. But building the Mishkan required specific materials: gold, silver, copper, fine linen, dolphin skins, for example. Any gift not found on this list would not be of much use. Did every Israelite possess something on this list?
Not all gifts are equal in value. Not all materials are central to a project. In making a request of the community, sometimes we are not specific enough about our needs, for fear of offending those who may not feel included. But in valuing willing energy over specific skill, we lose the opportunity to empower those who could rise to lead.
In this opening instruction of the parashah, Torah also clearly struggles with how to word such a request. How does a developing community welcome and include all while also elevating some over others? Did the community really want all gifts or only the ones most relevant to the task?
Perhaps the text hoped to move the heart of the individual who would hear and understand that she had a valuable contribution to make, in material or skill. When the details of a project speak to your particular strengths, you are required to step up and participate. We must be willing, when the call comes, to evaluate ourselves and know when it is our time to lead. Do not fear the display of confidence or bounty. The success of the community relies upon your heart being moved at the right time.
Cantor Erin R. Frankel serves Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia.