Don't Feel Obliged
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me." (Shemot / Exodus 25:1, 2; ESV)
Last week (http://torahbytes.org/72-18.htm), I explained how obligation with regard to our need to financially support the communities we are a part of is a good thing. We have an obligation to support our spiritual leaders. Also, those who have extra, bear a God-given responsibility for the needy. While no one should be forced to financially contribute to their congregations or to help the poor, these obligations are not to be viewed as merely optional extras for God's people. Rather, these are responsibilities that we need to take very seriously.
This doesn't mean, however, that every time we are asked to give, we should feel obliged. Many of us are inundated with all sorts of requests - even demands - to give to this cause or that. Some are just plain shams, while many are truly good causes. While generosity is a mark of genuine godliness, we are also called to be good stewards of our resources. Generosity should not be an excuse for being naive.
The need to support our religious communities should not be taken to mean that we are necessarily obligated to contribute to every plan and supposed need they claim to have. It's one thing to come to grips with our basic responsibilities to provide for the needs of our spiritual leaders, it's another thing when leaders expect their people to automatically fork over piles of cash to underwrite their latest visionary project.
In this week's Torah portion we have the account of God directing Moses to invite the people to contribute to the construction of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). In this case there is no doubt that we are dealing with a God-inspired project that was crucial for the life of the nation. This was not Moses' idea and the people knew that. Yet, they were under no obligation to give anything at all. The call to give was completely voluntary. As it turned out Moses had to tell the people to stop giving for they had received more than what they needed (see Shemot / Exodus 36:3-7). But the people's generosity in this case was beside the point. They were not obliged.
What is instructive for us is that there was a difference between financial contributions that were obligatory and those that were not. What made the difference appears to be the nature of the financial need. Obligatory giving was called for when the personal needs of spiritual leaders and the poor were in view, while voluntary giving was appropriate for a community project, such as the Mishkan, even though the whole community would benefit from such a project.
This should cause leaders to take care not to unnecessarily burden their people with the financial needs of their grand and not-so-grand projects. If Moses didn't need to pressure his people to give to a project that was clearly of God, how less should we, when we rarely if at all can claim to be so sure of the source of our inspiration.
This is not to say that there isn't a place to clearly and extensively share the details and benefits of various projects. The members of our communities should be given the opportunity to be thoroughly informed and invited to participate in all sorts of appropriate ways, including through financial contributions. But to make people feel obligated to support these projects is abusive.
Perhaps God is calling you to contribute to such things far more than you ever have before. Once that is clear to you, obey him and give. But you shouldn't feel obliged.
E-mail this TorahBytes to someone? Click here
To have TorahBytes e-mailed to