One of the great deficiencies and dangers that face organized religions, and certainly Judaism as well, is its necessary connection to fundraising. In a perfect world, religion would be completely separate from the necessity to obtain and dispense money – in fact, from any monetary consideration whatsoever. However since this perfect world has not yet been achieved, the problems and influence of money on religion, both individually and institutionally, are many and powerful.
The necessity to raise funds gives birth to all sorts of schemes in which the prevailing attitude often times is that the greatness of supporting Torah and Judaism justifies the use of otherwise questionable means. I need not identify or enumerate the numerous cases that have led to individual and institutional grief and public shame because of this type of mindset.
The building of the Tabernacle/Mishkan, the story of whose construction starts to be told to us in this week’s Torah reading, was accomplished by the voluntary donations of the individual Jews encamped in the desert of Sinai, in response to the call and appeal of Moshe. We do not find that this fundraising effort was in any way sullied by graft, greed, commissions or overhead expenses.
Moshe will make a full accounting for all of the donations received and will detail exactly how they were processed and built into the construction of the holy edifice. And when it appeared to Moshe that there was sufficient material and donations to complete the task, he calls a halt to the fundraising efforts. Moshe’s efforts were blessed by God and became the ideal paradigm, never again equaled in Jewish world history, of a completely notable and transparent fundraising campaign.
This was not the case in the time of the kings of Judah when funds were required to refurbish the Temple of Solomon. The fund-raising dragged on for years in the priestly clan and the public grumbled over the manner in which it was conducted. Finally the King had to acquiesce to some sort of looser arrangement regarding the accounting and spending of the funds that were donated in order to be able to finally complete the project.
Moshe and his generation and their ability to transcend the lure of money were no longer present. As the generations have declined since Sinai, that paradigm of Moshe has tended to recede even further. There is no practical benefit in bemoaning this fact. For religion and religious institutions to survive, expand and become influential, money is necessary. And when money becomes therefore necessary, all of the dangers that money brings with it enter our camp and unfortunately sometimes even seem to dominate it.
We should always demand transparency and honesty when dealing with public and charitable funds. Eventually Heaven separates the pure silver from the dross which always seems to encompass it. But we should insist, for our part, that holiness is built by holy means and just and responsible behavior.
Rabbi Berel Wein