Michael J. Lawrence
Nonprofit Parasha - On Leadership, Philanthropy & Not-For-Profit

Light Philanthropy: Bamidbar

I think we have all been moved by the medical teams around the world who have worked (sometimes at their own risk) to treat corona-ill folks over the last few months. We have shed a tear upon witnessing the selfless giving of many people to others that needed a helping hand, some companionship, a smile, a kind word. Comfort during loss.

So much light chaperoned into what became a dark, gloomy world.

In this week’s Torah portion we find ourselves reading briefly about the Menorah, that famous candelabra that stood in the temporary Tabernacle and later in the Jewish temples in Jerusalem. Across three thousand years, the seven-branched Menorah has remained one of the most recognizable symbols of Judaism and Jewish life. Today most synagogues (our holy places of worship in Temple-less times), have a large menorah prominently displayed or depicted in artwork.

The menorah of biblical and temple times was kept burning always, with pure olive oil and symbolized all at once a Godly presence and the eternal bond between God and the Jewish people. That helps us to understand the desperation to keep it burning with that one jar of pure oil left and the great joy of the eight-day oil miracle that became the now globally recognizable Chanukah holiday.

It is also of course the central symbol on the emblem of the modern State of Israel too – in a week that Israel finally swore in a new government, a gentle parasha reminder of this most grand, historic weight on the shoulders and in the hands of our leaders.

In Parashat Bamidbar this Shabbat, the menorah is termed “the menorah of illumination” (מנרת המאור) and it was indeed its perpetual light that was so special, so influential, so cherished.

Says the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) there are many forms of light that illuminate a room. A weaker light that shines from a wax candle. Light from a lantern that gives off greater light. In our times he notes too electrical lights that shine considerably more than a candle or a lantern.

And yet, says this great Jewish leader and scholar of his time, all these – the candle, the lantern and lights of today – can only illuminate and enlighten those who have eyes to see the light. Light does not have the strength to irradiate for those who do not have eyes to see.

It is often said that fundraising and responsibility for securing philanthropic donations is one of the most difficult and challenging professions. This last period, as global citizenry shared fears and military or economic strength were no defense or vaccine in the face of Covid-19, I was privileged to work on behalf of special people who heard the call, recognized the opportunity to be that candle, that lantern, that modern-day electric light to replenish dwindling light in homes, communities and organizations that had had their menorahs extinguished, their pure olive oil depleted.

Among these special partners and manufacturers of hope, of promise and of light, were some who not only provided a source of light but trusted us and others like us to take the light on their behalf and light up lives and livelihoods as needed in Israel and globally.

In a crisis, as darkness expands and surprises us, needs change rapidly as situations unfold unexpectedly. I was so deeply moved by philanthropic organizations, families and individuals who not only responded to the call, but then added to the light over and over again as we turned to them, sometimes more than once, to request a shift in utilization of their funding in order to meet new or unmet human needs.

As I recall, every time, the answer was “yes”. We have given you that torch, that lantern and we want you to use it for good and as needed.

Adds the Chafetz Chaim, while light can not illuminate one who does not have eyes to see, fulfilling Torah commands – and that of course very much includes the great mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) – can illuminate the eyes themselves!

When we give charity, when we are a source of light to others in their (and perhaps in our) darkest moments and we exhibit a desire for it to be done right, according to genuine needs at any given moment, we banish darkness, we open eyes and we let the light in.

That is the power of charity. That is impact.

About the Author
Michael Lawrence has been Financial Resource Development Unit Head & Chief Development Officer at the Jewish Agency for Israel since 2016.
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