Friday, February 12, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–T’rumah 5776–Gift Cards for G”d

Recently, I offered a gift. It was a meaningful gift to me. I had put a lot of time and effort into creating it. It was a product for which I normally charge organizations a reasonable fee. It was a script. I offered this work product gratis to an organization, which, though not my primary employer, is one for which I do quite a bit of work, and want to support their efforts. I began to help them prepare to use it. It is a type of product I have sold or given to other organizations in the past, so I would consider myself reasonably familiar with the usual conditions under which such an item would be presented.

The script, this gift, runs about the typical length, in my experience, for the type of program for which it was written. For a few weeks, I have been working with people in the organization to prepare to present this gift, this script.

Today I was asked how long the program is, because an edict has been issued from the powers that be that this program was not to exceed twenty minutes. I responded that it runs an hour, and that I had no interest in adapting it to run in twenty minutes, as I do not believe one can do the story justice in that length of time. I stated that I would withdraw the gifting if its length could not be accommodated, and that I would want all the copies of the script issued to be returned so that I would have this program to sell or gift to some other organization in the future. I asked that someone other than me be the one to inform those people who had already been working on the script be told it wasn’t going to be done.  I also stated that I would have to consider my options should the organization choose to present, on its own, a shorter program utilizing a similar theme as the program I had written. I was upset at how my gift was being treated.

At this point in time, I don’t know what the outcome will be. As the insult, which is how I think of it, is fresh, I realize that I may not be looking at this objectively. I may eventually soften my reaction, or simply chalk it up to experience (though I expect it will leave a sour taste behind.) Also, if I am being fair, I have to remember that no parameters were given to me in advance of my creating this script, this gift, and I am guilty of assuming the length these things have typically been in other settings and for other organizations would be similar. Writing about this is just cathartic, at the moment, and I use it only as a way of getting around to one of the main subjects of the parasha, expressed in its very name.

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ־לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת־תְּרֽוּמָתִֽי

Say to the children of Israel “Bring Me gifts from each who whose heart has so moved them to bring their gift.”

That’s always the part upon which I focus. Perhaps the lesson I need to learn today is to remember what follows.

וְזֹאת הַתְּרוּמָה אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ מֵֽאִתָּם

And these are the gifts that you will accept from them

G”d gives a rather specific list of what gifts will be accepted:

gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats' hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense;  lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece

(It should be noted that G”d gets rather specific not just about the gifts, but about the exact construction of the mishkan and all the attending items. I’ve written about that a few times.)

So what may be gifted is not whatever a person is so moved in their heart to give, but only if they are moved to give one of the acceptable items. To our modern sensibilities (and perhaps even to ancient ones)it feels just a bit unfair. why can’t I offer whatever I am moved to offer?

Well, let’s think about that for a minute. In the area of charity, there has been much discussion about charities giving those they are helping what they really need, and not what the charity, or its supporters believe the people need. I still carry socks in my car to give away to homeless folks because I was once told, by a person who had experienced homelessness, that these were something many homeless people could really use.

More and more charities are offering the option for targeted donations. We also have micro-loan and micro-charity organizations that target on a very sepcific level and have very sepcific needs.

Why is an organization to which I am making a gift obligated to accept my gift, if it is something that isn’t really useful to them? Now, like everything in this world, there are many shades here, many sides. G”d specifies (what we think are) dolphin skins and acacia wood. What if I have another type of skin or wood to offer that might do the job as well. Should that be unacceptable?

We are all taught to accept gifts graciously, but how many gift items wind up sitting on a shelf, or wind up being re-gifted. Of course, the modern solution to all this is the gift card. On the one hand, it’s the height of laziness, on the other, it does allow the gift to be truly useful to the recipient by allowing them to choose what to get. I have been involved in charity drives with schools and students where the organizations actually told us that a gift card could be the most useful thing you could give to a person in need. It is not necessarily an unthinking, less thoughtful gesture.

Judaism has many different ways to praise and bless G”d. Some of them are quite specific in reference to for what G”d is being praised or blessed. Others are a bit broader. In Temple times, the requested gifts and sacrifices were quite specific. The the prophets told us that the sacrificies of our lips would suffice. So what do we offer in our prayers and blessings? Do we give specific thanks and blessings, or do we offer G”d some gift cards?

Of course, perhaps this is all useless speculation. As many commentators have taught us, the Temple, the sacrifices – they weren’t really for G”d. G”d has little need of burnt food and pleasing odors. No, we are told, those are really for us, so that we might feel that our sacrificies are worthwhile (and so our olfactory senses weren’t overwhelmed by the smell of the sacrificies.) G”d didn’t really need the Mishkan. We needed the Mishkan. (Which takes us back to why G”d was so speicifc about the construction of the Mishkan, a topic we can discuss some other time, or you can read some of my other musings on this parasha.)

Are you one of those people who routinely uses the “other amount” field when filling out a physical or online contribution form which also has suggested amounts? I am. I don’t begrudge the charities the techniques that market research has shown to be effective in increasing their receipts. I just don’t like being told what amount to give. Is that pride? Stubbornness? Something else?

Clearly, as we learn later, the children of Israel were quite moved in their hearts to give all the specified items for the building of the mishkan. They didn’t seem to object to being told what they should contribute. So why should I?

There are still many who share the sentiment that gifts should be personal, given with lots of thought. Who would rather have a homemade drawing than a giftcard. However, can I be certain that the person to whom I am making a gift really wants my very personalized gift? What if I’ve gotten it all wrong?

As usual, I don’t seem to have any concrete answers. Gifting is a complicated thing, that needs to take into account the circumstances of both giver and recipient. (Some would argue that only the desires of the recipient matter, but I’m not convinced of that. Giving is still a social interaction (no matter how hard we try to isloate and insulate ourselves from the realities of those we are trying to help.) I’ve encountered more than my share who look askance when I offer them socks instead of coins.

There is so much upon which we havenlt touched. So much more to say, to think about, to ponder. I have mused, and have more musing yet to do on this topic. I invite you to join me in pondering the mysteries of giving and receiving gifts – from and to and other, and from and to G”d.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
© 2016 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

T'rumah 5775 - Dis Legonmenon Driving Me Crazy, Mon!
T'rumah 5774 - Dollhouse
T'rumah 5773 - Virtual Reality, Real Virtuality, or Really Virtual?
T'rumah 5772-When Wool and Linen Together Are Not Shatnez
T'rumah 5771 - TorahLeaks
T'rumah 5770 - Finessing Idolatry, or Outgrowing It?
T'rumah 5769 - Planning for Always
T'rumah 5767-You Gotta Wanna - The Sequel
T'rumah 5766-No Tools Allowed
T'rumah 5765-Ish Al Akhiv
T'rumah 5764-Redux 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5763-Semper Paratus
T'rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T'rumah 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna