"Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him."
What child doesn't love to receive gifts? Or adult for that matter? Knowing that someone took the time to figure out what gift you might like makes the receiving of it that much more special. Conversely, it is in the best interest of our children to cultivate a desire to give gifts to others. Whether gifts are handmade or store-bought, we can help our children cultivate a generous heart by helping them learn the importance of giving as well as receiving.
The gift of our time also is a very important concept to develop in young children. It is one of the most precious ways we can give of ourselves to others. We can instill this virtue in our children when we lead by example. Whether it is through regular volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting a local nursing home, children will learn to do the same by watching parents give freely of their time.
In Parashah T'rumah, we read the Hebrew phrase "asher yidvenu libo," which has been translated as "whose heart moves him." The Israelites' hearts moved them so much, they brought so many gifts and their generosity of spirit was so huge that they had to be asked to stop! (Exodus 36:5-6) To be noted: Not only did they bring many gifts, but they did it willingly, enthusiastically and with a great desire to build a mishkan (sanctuary) for God.
From this passage, we learn about the importance of giving to our communities, whether we donate money or volunteer our time. By giving on a regular basis, our children will learn to do the same. We can show them how to be active partners in community building, working together to balance the scales of justice, the true meaning of tzedakah. It is with a generous heart that our children can learn the thrill of giving, of taking care of those who are in need. This will surely be its own reward.
Talk to your rabbi or someone at your local JCC or Family Jewish Service Agency and ask about local volunteering opportunities. Here are just a few of the many ways your family can begin volunteering and doing charitable acts in your community:
- Every Friday night, as part of your Shabbat ritual, ask everyone to put money into a family tzedakah box. At a pre-appointed time (every three months for example), decide as a family where the money will be donated.
- Deliver meals to homebound people.
- Volunteer at a local animal shelter.
- Participate in a program such as the Road to Recovery, driving cancer patients to and from their treatments. Go to www.cancer.org for more information.
- Contact your local United Way at www.unitedway.org to find a way to volunteer in your community.
Upon examination of the Hebrew word yidvenu, we see that the root of the word is nadav, which means to volunteer. By being magnanimous, by giving selflessly, by volunteering our time, we learn to serve others. By doing so, we can create our own personal mishkan, a place in our lives in which God can dwell.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Have you ever done volunteer work?
- Can you think of a way you and your children can volunteer as a family?
- Does your family have a tzedakah box?
Questions for Children:
- Do you know what tzedakah is?
- Can you think of a way you can help someone in your school? Temple? Community?
- Have you ever volunteered to help anyone?
Pages 604-611 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.