Making Free Will Offerings

Along with tzedakah, terumah is a vital way of sustaining our Jewish communities.

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Providing All the Materials

According to parashat Terumah, the Israelites women and men alike-provide not only the labor, but also the raw materials for the Mishkan. Their gifts, brought as voluntary offerings, are gathered and transformed into a place for God to reside in their midst. Imagine how these former slaves felt as they became both builders of a nation and builders of a dwelling place for the Divine!

God instructs Moses: "Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved" (25:2). This kind of giving, a freewill offering, does not come through guilt, coercion, or competition, but from the deepest recesses of the soul. The Israelites bring yarns, precious metals, cloth, and tanned skins-an array of earthly objects that will eventually become the sacred space where Israel can seek God's presence.

Today's Lessons

Today, it is important for all of us to continue to make freewill offerings to the institutions that unify the Jewish people. Along with tzedakah (required giving), terumah (voluntary giving) is vital for sustaining our community. Synagogues, Jewish centers, and Jewish communal agencies cannot survive on membership fees or dues alone. As they struggle to meet their financial needs, these institutions require our heartfelt support through the freewill gifts that are necessary to fulfill the good and holy work of these organizations.
synagogue charity
The synagogue, in particular, lies at the intersection of the earthly and heavenly realms. The heir to the Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting), the contemporary synagogue is the place where Jews most often seek out God.

Through study, prayer, and communal gatherings, the synagogue provides the necessary environment for Jewish connection, renewal, and survival. When we bring our voluntary gifts of money, time, and other resources, we bring the realm of the holy into our lives.

Just as our ancestors were transformed from ordinary slaves into builders of God's home on earth, we too are transformed through this sacred endeavor. We bring more peace, more hope, and more faith into our own lives and the life of our community when we support and build the synagogue. We strengthen the Jewish people even as we strengthen ourselves as Jews.

Voluntary giving is different for each and every person; it is not simply a percentage or flat rate. A person of substantial means has the ability to give greater sums, while a person of more modest means might not have the capacity to give at such large levels. Nevertheless, each person can and should give significantly.

The definition of a "meaningful gift" varies for each individual, depending on one's circumstances. But regardless of the quantity of the offering, the quality is the same: giving a meaningful voluntary offering to a synagogue or other Jewish institution is a privilege, not a burden. This kind of giving-be it of money or time and effort-is cheerful giving, giving that makes a difference, giving that matters. Our parashah teaches that the terumah-gift is an offering that comes from the deep recesses of the heart. Then and now, it is a privilege to be involved in the sacred work of building community and constructing a dwelling place for the Divine.

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Rabbi Denise Eger

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the spiritual leader at Congregation Kol-Ami in West Hollywood, CA.