• Rabbi Rubanowitz

Vayakhel-P’Kuday (Parah) - 5778/2018~ “meet AND match”

Jake and Elwood meet their match.

Dear Friends,

You’ve seen them everywhere. “For every dollar you give we have a matching donor. But we need to raise the $$$ in 24 hours…”. Or: “We need $1,000,000.00 by next month, but if we raise X amount, Mr. & Mrs. X will fill the gap” … “They are called “Matching Gifts”, or “Meet the Deficit” fundraising campaigns and are often very effective (Yes-we should start one/more for the Shul on the Beach. I have some major projects in development to grow Judaism in the Beach Cities. Contact me if you can help with this!).

But-Are these campaigns Kosher?

Consider Shmos/Exodus 35:27 in this week’s Parsha of Vayakhel: “And the Princes brought the Shoham stones and the Miluim stones for the Ephod and the Choshen” (The Kohen Gadol/High Priest’s breastplate). Rashi cites the Medrash: “What prompted the Nesiim [Princes] to contribute first at the inauguration of the Mizbeach [altar] [Bamidbar/Numbers 7:1-2], while they did not contribute first at the construction of the Mishkan [Tabernacle]? This is what they said: “Let the public contribute whatever they contribute,and we will complete any shortfall.” Since the public contributed everything that was needed, the Nesiim said ‘What is left for us to do?’ The only things not yet contributed were the Shoham stones and the Miluim stones for the Ephod and the Choshen and so that is what they brought. Therefore, they made sure to be the first to contribute by the dedication of the Mizbeach. [BUT] Since they were lazy in contributing to the Mishkan, the spelling of the word “Nesiim” (Princes) is defective in this Passuk (one of the two YUD letters was removed from the title “Nesiim”-“Princes”).

Now friends, imagine if one of the devoted Benefactors of our Shul, and a serious Philanthropist of causes all over, heard that I called her a “lazy” or “lackluster” supporter because instead of giving a million dollars outright she offered to match a million dolalr donation with another, or she offered to give whatever amount we need to fill in a two million dollar fundraising deficit? Do you think she’d be the first one to rush to see what other of our projects she can put her efforts behind? Or do you think she might wonder seriously if we recognize the actual tremendous benefit in a “Match”, or “Fill the Gap” program-where double the pledges can be gained, or where a fixed amount of funding is guaranteed-and perhas rethink whther her efforts really needed here. Call the “Matching” fundraising business plan what you want-but it is anything but a demonstration of laziness! How do you understand this Medrash?

Well, after I took a third look at the Passuk-verse and the Rashi, I think I do understand it, and I love my Chiddush! -which I am excited to share:

The key is in looking at the “punishment”-a letter “YUD” being removed from the title of “Princes”. What’s behind this?

Well, a Prince, or a “Nasi” is by definition an elevated member of the class, of the group from where he comes. A Nasi “represents”, and because of this representation, is pedestaled, place above, marked for unique honor and recognition. There is great danger in doing so however. A person given that sort of deference may come to forget that regardless of the position, such a chosen one must always be and remain “of the people” that are represented. The elevated status derives from the group represented-it’s not independent of that group, and therefore the Nasi, while “raised above”, can never be separate from the group, never different than the represented. The Prince rather, must be the “best example” of his people, a model of our own excellence. In other words, the Prince must be US, plus MORE. And therefore, any action taken by the Nasi cannot be one of distance, separation, or of a detached nature in any way. The Prince must take extra precaution, must be “diligent” in his efforts to be like all of us-do what we all do-just do it at the Prince, and Nasi level.

To distill this idea even more, what I think the Torah is saying is, the Nasi must always remain 100 percent “like” and “one of” his fellow Jews and stay one of the “People”. Well, we all know that every Jew is represented by the letter “YUD”, or as the Hasidim pronounce, “YID” (as in “Yidden”. Note-a group is a Minyan of ten-the numerical value of Yud). We also know that the Hebrew word for individual people is ANASHIM. What’s interesting with the word Anashim (“people”) is that it is made up of the exact letters that spell the word NESIIM (“Princes”), if NESIIM is spelled with a missing YUD.

So now we have it. The Torah is literally telling the Nesiim, and teaching us, that leadership of the nature of a Jewish representative of the people must always refrain from detachment.  Our leaders must share and share alike, give and give alikel-and then some. Therefore, regardless of the enormity of their gifts and their generosity, when the Nesiim inthis Parsha  placed themselves apart from the crowd by just offering to “fill in the gap”, they demonstrated a certain level of aloofness that did not fit into Hashem’s model of a Jewish Nasi-one who remains first and foremost “part of the Minyan”. So, Hashem gently reminded them of this lapse by removing one of the “Yuds”, as they separate themselves, hinting to them never to forget to be part of the “Anashim”-their brothers and sisters.

What a lesson for us friends, all of us who have been touched by Torah and Shabbos. We are all leaders to some degree, and therefore we must always remember that however we rise above the crowd, we also remain very much a part thereof. We must Meet first, THEN we can Match all we want!

Wishing all a Shabbos and a life, of elevation-and connection!

Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Shalom Rubanowitz, Rabbi at the “Shul on the Beach”

Venice,  California.