When God asked the Israelites to bring gifts "from their heart" to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle, every person in the entire community went back to their tents to pick out their favorite possessions to bring to the center of the camp. No one wanted to be left out of the building. So, they brought back tanned rammed skins, dolphin skins and acacia wood — all things that would fit perfectly in the design of the Tabernacle.
However, when Aaron went to inspect the donations, not everything was appropriate for the new structure that was being built. For example, Chaim's collection of loose trinkets or Sara's recipe for strudel, while very special for the two of them, were not exactly what God had in mind.
Most perplexing for Aaron were the many gifts brought by the children. Before him were piles and piles of drawings and pottery, filled with glorious pictures of their wanderings in the wilderness. These images and tiny creations brought laughter and joy to Aaron's face. But they also made him sad. How on earth would he be able to tell these kids that there was no place for their artwork in the new Tabernacle?
Weeks went by, and Aaron's concerns grew. The building was almost completed. What were once separate pieces of gold and silver, wood and stone, now had taken the shape of a glorious new Tabernacle. This was something that the Israelites could celebrate for all time. And the closer the people were getting to completing their project, the more obvious Aaron's dilemma became. It was as if every time he saw a child, he knew exactly what the little one was thinking: "What about my gifts? Have you forgotten about me?"
What to Do?
Just before the dedication ceremony, when all of the Israelites were to gather to celebrate what they had accomplished, it dawned on Aaron exactly what he should do. There was one place in the Tabernacle that would need these gifts more than anywhere else. This was the place that he was most frightened to enter, the place where God's presence would shine directly upon him and only him. This was, of course, the Holy of Holies. It was there that Aaron would need to enter on Yom Kippur to confront his Creator. It was there that he'd need the children's artwork, Chaim's trinkets and Sara's recipe. And so, that is exactly what Aaron did.
In my day job as director of community partnership, housed at the Jewish Outreach Partnership, I oversee three of the seven Federation Kehillot, or neighborhood consortiums, that make up the Philadelphia Jewish community. Like the Israelites, these kehillot — in Bucks County, Bux-Mont, Center City, Chester, Delaware, Lower Merion, Old York Road, along with communities in the Northeast and Northwest — have unique gifts to contribute.
Each represent thriving Jewish communities full of activities and cooperation among various synagogues and organizations. Did you know that Philadelphia is one of the largest Jewish communities — not in North America, but in the entire world?
More than 100 congregations exist in the area, each with different ways of celebrating Jewish life. On any given week, hundreds of activities take place.
I encourage you to take advantage of all of these "gifts of the heart" — and to contribute some of your own. To do so, just go to jewishphilly.org and check out the community pages, sign up for the Kehillah e-newsletters, and go to the community calendar to see what's happening. You can also check out the calendar in this newspaper.
I encourage you to volunteer in one of numerous opportunities offered by the community.
May all of our gifts, like those given toward the construction of the Tabernacle, find their way to the Holy of Holies.
Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein is the director of community partnership with Jewish Outreach Partnership.