Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, February 25, 2023

Generosity has documented health benefits. According to researchers, generous behavior lowers blood pressure, releases “feel-good” endorphins that make us happier, lowers stress, improves our relationships, and helps us live longer. With all these benefits, it’s surprising that more people don’t practice generosity. In this week’s Torah portion we begin the process of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, in which God’s presence dwelt in the midst of the Israelite camp. God directs Moses, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:2) Commenting on this verse, Sforno (Italy, b. approx. 1470, d. 1550) wrote, “G’d commanded that the procedure should not be like the imposition of every man’s contribution for the public charity fund which was treated as a tax. Contributions were to be accepted only from volunteers.” God does not want people to give grudgingly or out of obligation, but freely, from the heart. In other words, out of generosity. Perhaps God knew that generosity was the key to health, happiness, and good relationships. It wasn’t enough to build the Mishkan, it had to be built with the right spirit, with an open heart. Imagine what our society would be like if all of us participated in our political and public life with a spirit of open heartedness and generosity. Perhaps we would all be happier and solve more of our problems.