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Monday, 31 August 2015

What can I get for my donation?

Daf Yomi Nazir 9


A friend of mine went off to revive an inner-city synagogue.  The shul had been around for over a century but had been in decline for many decades, since the Jewish community had long since moved to the suburbs.  But the area had become gentrified and he was willing to give it a shot.  It was going to take a lot of pounding the pavement, both for warm bodies and sorely-needed funds.

Approaching one potential donor, my friend told him about the project to revitalize the shul and how he needed money for programs. 
The man of means listened and then said to him, ‘Look, I’ll tell you what, I’d like to donate towards the refurbishment of the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark).’ 

My poor friend didn’t know how to respond.  The Ark was fine; it didn’t need refurbishing.  He needed cold hard cash to run programs and bring people into the shul!

The Mincha offering in the Holy Temple consisted of an issaron measure of fine wheat-flour combined with oil and frankincense.
One who declares, ‘I hereby vow to bring a Mincha from barley,’ he must nonetheless bring it from wheat. ‘From regular flour,’ he must bring it from fine flour. ‘Without oil and frankincense,’ he must bring it with oil and frankincense.  ‘Half an issaron measure,’ he must bring a whole issaron.  ‘An issaron and a half,’ he must bring two.
Rabbi Shimon exempts him from the offering, since he did not make his donation the same way other donors do.

You can imagine the Sages and Rabbi Shimon sitting with this potential donor.  They’ve asked him to donate a Mincha to the Holy Temple.  He says, ‘I’ll do it, but here are my conditions.’  Rabbi Shimon walks out.  The other Rabbis accept the pledge but then charge him for a regular Mincha, no strings attached. 

Both responses are the same: if you want to give, just ‘make your donation the same way other donors do.’  Don’t start telling us how you would like to give or what you would like to give.  We have told you what the Temple needs – can you help us or can’t you help us?  If you’re offering barley but we need wheat, what good is your donation?

Some people are willing to give.  But they want to do it on their terms.  The donation comes with clauses and conditions.  And at the end of the day, the poor fundraiser walks away shaking their head, wondering whether the donation is even worth accepting!

If you donate on your terms, you’re not really donating to the cause; you’re donating to your cause.  The right way to contribute is to find out what the recipient requires and then do your best to fill the need.  If you’re donating according to your desires, all you are doing is making yourself feel good, not the charity.  In other words, you are donating to yourself, not to anyone else!


Donations must be offered wholeheartedly.  That means discovering what the recipient needs and working to fill that need.  May you merit giving abundantly with no expectation of any incentive in return!