Dinner season has fully reemerged: every school, synagogue and institution is now lining up for our attention (and our money). Our clothes are pressed, our shoes shined, our hair coiffed. Even though these events demand of us, it’s important to remind ourselves that they celebrate our communities and our values.
These moments focus on the giving of funds, energy, and time. But people can donate in many different and meaningful ways. The late Israeli kabbalist Rav Chaim Cohen-Farhiya, known as the chalvan, or “the milkman” (because his days were spent working at a Givatayim dairy plant), explains that when Moshe asked the people of Israel to donate for the mishkan – a story we will read next week in parashat Terumah – the people gave at varying levels: each donated asher yidvenu libo, “as their heart moved them.” The rich could afford to give more than the poor. The generous gave more; the miserly gave less. Rabbi Cohen explains that because the people were forced to receive the Torah (citing the famous Midrash that Mount Sinai was held over the people’s heads like a gigit, a basin, until they accepted), they therefore had an opportunity to give for the mishkan completely uncoerced.
Shabbat Shekalim this weekend reminds us of a different model of giving: every citizen was required to give a half shekel, which was used each year for the operating costs of the mishkan. No one could donate any more and no one could give any less. The machzit ha-shekel is a universal donation, writes the Chalvan, one that symbolizes the kedusha segulit, the inherent holiness of each and every Jew.
At times we encounter dramatic life moments, times when we must give more than we ever imagined that we have to give, like the heroic Turkish rescuers fighting against time and the elements to find survivors of the horrific earthquake. But often we give of ourselves much less dramatically, and much more frequently. Like baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr., we show up regularly and do what we need to do without fanfare.
A real-life application, it recently occurred to me, is how we teach our children to daven. This requires both of these models: obviously we pray when things are terrible and we need God’s help and when things are wonderful and we want to say thanks. But we also pray every single day – even on days when nothing extraordinary is happening to us or for us. True avodah, true worship, is not so much dramatic as it is consistent. We try to impart this to kids in school, but it’s hard. It’s always easier to get a rousing response to tehillim when a tragedy occurs than it is to get full participation in ashrei on a random Wednesday. That’s our challenge as educators and as parents.
If we can find the patience and the Cal Ripken, Jr. – like consistency to show such commitment to our kids, just imagine the heights to which they can climb – and what givers they each can become.