Are Women or Men More Generous?

Dear Rabbi,

Kol Kavode for your remarks yesterday. See, you don't have to quote Rashi to make a relevant and powerful point. I for one am glad that you are beginning to step out of your comfort zone. That being said, I personally do not think that it is appropriate to make one's feelings known during the zoom service. Although it was a compliment, I believe it should be expressed privately either by a phone call or through an email. This goes both ways. I am sure that some of the "right" leaning people in the congregation may not like what they heard.
Your statements were extraordinary in many ways, but something that happened to me this past week, brought a smile to my face when I heard your words. My practice is a virtual "United Nations" of clients. Obviously restaurants have many cuisines, which are owned by those that come from the countries or other backgrounds that make them sell a particular type of meal. 
Among the backgrounds, I have a number of Chasids as clients. One called me up about something this past week and mentioned that there was going to be a big wedding this weekend in Brooklyn and that I was invited to attend. I am talking about thousands of people coming together at the same time. At first I politely declined but when he pressed the issue and even stated that I did not have to wear a mask, I could not restrain myself. I said that "you people" do not understand the gravity of the situation as it relates to Covid. He took tremendous exception to the term "you people" and said that he knew I was a Jew and how could I make such a comment. I quickly responded that I do not wear a yarmulke or tsitsis and although both of my parents were Holocaust survivors, people of his sect don't recognize me as a "Jew". He quickly went on to the topic he called me about. I never brought up the subject of praying at the Wall. Don't worry about whether I kept the client, I often clash with my clients. I am not their "friend" I am there to give them advice and counsel and they know that I know what I am talking about so they put up with my manner of speaking to them.  

My first reaction after reading this week’s parshah is that G-d and Moses wanted to take a break and composed the equivalent of a television rerun.  In this week's portion, VayakhelMoses gathers the Israelites and relays to them all the details regarding the construction of the Tabernacle and its vessels. The actual construction is also described. This portion repeats many of the details described in the portion of Terumah, wherein G‑d instructed Moses how the Tabernacle and its vessels were to be constructed.

To me the obvious question is why do we have to read the same description of how the Tabernacle was constructed? Why can’t the text merely state Moses gathered the Israelites and explained what G-d had told him on Mt. Sinai? Only one week removed from the last parshah, there is even a repeat of who is actually going to build the Tabernacle, when Moses announces G‑d's choice of Bezalel and Oholiab to serve as foremen of the Tabernacle construction project, and he transfers to them all the donated materials. Wasn’t the Torah written as a transcribed description for those that followed?  Why do we need a repeat of what should still be fresh in our minds?

What I also find fascinating in yet another parshah devoted to the building of the Tabernacle, is found at the very beginning of the parshah before any words of construction are mentioned. In the First Aliyah at Exodus 35:2-3 the following is stated:

“Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.
You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day." We are yet again told to observe the Sabbath and do no form of work with the penalty for a breach, death, a pretty severe penalty to say the least.

I included line 3 which states: “You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day", as the only concrete example of a form of “work”. Work has many synonyms which include the following: “labor”, “employment”, “job”, “vocation” or “occupation”. As the spiritual leader of the JJC, you are paid to teach us the ways of Judaism and as part of your duties, you lead us during our Shabbat services. Obviously you are not alone in what you do on the Sabbath but do you consider what you are doing on Shabbat, work?

I will give you an answer that I thought of, which is although you are paid to be our rabbi, you would be praying anyway on Shabbat, so maybe this excuses the thought that maybe what you are doing is “work”. Assuming that this clarification is valid, I will ask the question using a different category of clergy. If a synagogue does not have a full time cantor and hires one for the High Holy Days, is he or she working on those days when again none of us are supposed to do any form of labor especially if any of the holiday falls on a Shabbat? He or she is being paid specifically to lend his or her voice to the services and that is really the only reason that person is standing on the bema. Does the G-d given gift of an ability to carry a tune and learn a particular chant excuse the “work” he or she was hired to do for a specific holiday?

Going on to another part of the parshah that caught my attention, at the end of the Second Aliyah at Exodus 35:29 the following is stated:

“Every man and woman whose heart inspired them to generosity to bring for all the work that the Lord had commanded to make, through Moses, the children of Israel brought a gift for the Lord.”

This goes on to the Third Aliyah Exodus 36:6 where we learn the following:

“So Moses commanded, and they announced in the camp, saying: "Let no man or woman do any more work for the offering for the Holy." So the people stopped bringing.”

As I understand this, the Israelites came forward and generously donated all the materials which Moses enumerated for the building of the Mishcan until it reached a point where the craft people tell Moses that there is enough material and Moses had to order the people to stop. This leads me to a question and a hope. Are the Israelites donating the material showing a generosity that is genuine or are they thinking that what they have done as it relates to the golden calf has to be appeased by showing G-d that they are sorry and want to make amends? Regardless of why, my fervent hope is that our own congregants dig deep at this critical time in our history to help a JJC that is truly in need of help. 


Dear Mordecai,

To be clear, this week’s portion is Vayakhel-Pekudei, not only Vayakhel. Are you surprised that men and women both gave? Who do you think are more generous – men or women? Imagine people giving so much that they have to be told to stop. “Don’t give until it hurts; give until it feels good.” What we’re working with here are two commands. In truth, I am troubled by Exodus 35:29. The Lord commanded them to do something, and they exceeded the command. Isn’t that a form of impiety? Then, Moses commands in Exodus 36:6. Moses is able to put a stop to the command of the Lord. Or rather, a command of Moses can supersede a command of the Holy One Blessed Be He. One really has to ask the question why this parsha does feel like a re-run. To my mind, it’s similar to the passage in which Abraham’s servant goes to the old country to find a wife for Isaac. (Isaac may not have been aware that Abraham’s servant went on this mission.) The servant makes a speech about the kind of woman that he is looking for, then he meets Rebecca, and when he returns to her house - the house of Laban - he gives a long description of what we had already read. This is to show the servant's honest and trustworthiness. Similarly here, the repetition serves to demonstrate Israel's obedience. 
I think that guilt for the Golden Calf could have played a role in why they gave so generously, but we just don't know. 
 You mention that this is the second passage preceded by an injunction about the Sabbath. As I think I indicated on Shabbat, this is a way of the Torah affirming sacred time over sacred space. 
The definition of work is a funny thing when it comes to Shabbat. You seem to focus on the aspect of work that is remuneration. Work is what you get paid for. While that is true, I don't think what I do on Shabbat or what a paid cantor does on the High Holidays qualifies as work because we are paid. It is service and would be service regardless of whether that is remunerated or not. 


Dear Rabbi,

I am not surprised that both men and women gave and I bet the women gave more generously then the men with less guilt as it relates to the golden calf. I would be willing to bet that over the years, the JJC Sisterhood has donated more money than any other organization of the Temple. As to reading both portions, I read what I can in order to give my "two cents" to the conversation and in all likelihood I would have only commented on what you received anyway. 

As to my comment re "work" and what it means, I may agree that remuneration may have a lot to do with some of the synonyms I threw at you but are you "breaking" the law on Shabbat if you engage in some hobby like golf or if you attend a ball game? For that matter, the concept of lighting fires has been reexamined if one were to keep on an oven or stove before Shabbat. Are you breaking the Shabbat prohibition if you drive a car? I don't think that using "horsepower" violates the rule against making your animals work on the Shabbat. 
As to the comments about some cantors, I would be willing to bet that a cantor that is not hired on a full time basis and may only be hired for the High Holy Days would not lend his or her voice to the service if there were not some "remuneration" thrown in.