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Timeo Danaos

Virgil in Aeneid coined the famous phrase, warning the readers of the dangers of accepting gifts from adversaries. In modern English, the original Danaans, who were Greeks from the mainland, became the Greeks. The gift-giving and gift-accepting rituals continue to be one of the most uncertain spheres of human relationships.

Our weekly Torah portion also discusses gifting, itemizing the donation that God is willing to accept for the future sanctuary. These precious things are to be donated, as Torah states, “from every person whose heart so moves him.”

There is no obligation or duty for anyone to part with the best they can offer. As Sforno explains, “G’d commanded that the procedure should not be like the imposition of every man’s contribution for the public charity fund which was treated as a tax. Contributions were to be accepted only from volunteers.”

More often than not, we are baffled by the desire of people to give us a gift. It is better to accept the Torah approach and rejoice in the generosity of spirit than to follow a “Greek” way and to suspect the ulterior motives of gift-givers.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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