Janine Muller Sherr

Give and you shall love

Towards the end of the Book of Exodus, Moses gathers the people and instructs them to bring contributions for the Mishkan (Sanctuary). They immediately start to donate a wide variety of materials, including gold jewelry, linen, acacia wood, spices, oil, and precious stones. But then something remarkable happens: the people can’t stop giving.

The people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work in the Sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commended to be done.”

So Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else an offering for the Sanctuary.” And so the people restrained from giving more because what they already had was enough to do all the  work.” (Exodus, 36:3-7)

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l points out, the Children of Israel were a quarrelsome and rebellious group, but they were also exceedingly generous. This beautiful trait has remained an intrinsic part of the Jewish character until this day.

Rabbi Sacks highlights Maimonides’ comment in this regard:

“We have never seen or heard about a Jewish community which does not have a charity fund.” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 9:3)

Maimonides further states:

We are obligated to more scrupulous in fulfilling the commandment of tzedakah than any other positive commandment because tzedakah is the sign of a righteous person, a descendant of Abraham our father, as it is said, “For I know him that he will command his children….to do tzedakah…” (Laws of Gifts for the Poor, 10:1-3)

According to Rabbi Sacks: “Maimonides is here saying more than that Jews give charity. He is saying that a charitable disposition is written into Jewish genes, part of our inherited DNA…Whether this is nature or nurture, to be Jewish is to give.” Or, as a recent Birthright advertisement exclaimed: “Our Jewish Generosity is Our Superpower!”

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, in his classic work, Michtav M’Eliyahu (Strive for Truth!) explains that God, the ultimate Giver, has granted mankind, fashioned in His image, the “sublime power of giving” (p. 119).  Rav Dessler famously asks: Do we give to others because we love them, or does love grow as a result of giving? He concludes: “A person comes to love the one to whom he gives…if I give to someone, I feel close to him: I have a share in his being. It follows that if I were to start bestowing good upon everyone I come in contact with, I would soon feel they are all my relatives, all my loved ones.” (p. 130)

The ongoing war in Israel has revealed, perhaps more than ever before, our innate Jewish character. We can’t hold ourselves back from giving more and more: Tefillin, boots, helmets, warm winter clothing, meals, pizza, and barbecues for our soldiers; clothes and toys for displaced families; Shabbat meals for families with fathers at the front. A lady named Anat Ishai baked 100 kg of challah for soldiers, and there was “the Persian-Jewish grandma (“Chiki” Elghanian) (who) want(ed) to feed the entire IDF from her apartment” (Times of Israel, Jan. 13, 2024). It was estimated that North American Jewry raised one billion dollars for Israel in the first month of the war alone!

As we know, people donated their skills, their homes, or their time. Some tied tzitzit for soldiers; hotels, moshavim, kibbutzim and private citizens hosted evacuees. Restaurants in Tel Aviv koshered their kitchens so they could send meals to kosher-observant soldiers. Singers entertained the troops. Israeli from across the country, as well as volunteers from the diaspora, helped farmers gather their crops and fruit.

And to our immense sorrow, so many of our courageous soldiers and security personnel gave their limbs or their very lives for Israel and the Jewish people.

The following poem by Racheli Moshkovitz (translated by Chavi Swidler Eisenberg) circulated last December as the story of Joseph and his brothers unfolded in the weekly parsha. It perfectly captures the beautiful spirit of our times and the outpouring of love and giving.


My son returned from battle, his duffel bursting

With things that I had not packed for him.

Socks donated by the Jews in Argentina,

A quilted blanket smelling like someone else’s home,

A blue towel from a family from the Moshav,

Tzitzit from Jerusalem,

A fleece jacket, gifted by a high tech company,

A scarf knitted by an elderly lady,

Undershirts purchased by online shoppers,

A sheet that was given to him by a friend.

Gloves bought by teenage girls,

A jacket from the closet of someone who came and

Requested to give.

I spread out all of these garments

And weave together a new coat of many colors.

See, Yosef, your brothers were there for you.

But I’m left wondering: Will we be able to sustain these feelings of unity and love? Perhaps, as Rav Dessler suggests, if we keep on giving, especially to those we consider “different” from ourselves, we can continue to love each other even after this war ends.

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