Establishing a System

Parashat Terumah lays out a list of regulations for spiritual development.

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The Needs of Aid Recipients

Another problem prevalent in the foreign assistance community is a disconnect from the genuine needs of aid recipients. Josette Perard, director of The Lambi Fund of Haiti, a grassroots organization that works to promote sustainable livelihoods, notes that:

With large-scale foreign aid, the organizations go and say “I'll put something there,” but maybe it’s not what the community wants. Often these million-dollar initiatives fail because they don't involve the people in the doing of the activity.

The hallmark of sponsorship of the Mishkan--selfless intent and engagement--is sorely missing from U.S. foreign assistance, drastically limiting its positive outcomes.

Furthermore, U.S. aid programs often implement an unsystematic 'small circle' approach to development, whereby a particular problem or population is addressed without taking into account the wider systems that contribute to that problem. For example, the U.S. government may send food aid to a community suffering from hunger, without also addressing the root causes of hunger, which may include a complicated set of factors including political instability, insecurity, unfair trade practices and discrimination.

Unless the causes of hunger for that community are addressed in a holistic manner, sustainable food security will be difficult to achieve. Just as the Or HaChaim pointed out that the Mishkan depended on the interconnectedness of all members of the Israelite community, successful foreign aid requires an understanding of the connections between the numerous factors that contribute to poverty and cannot respond to these factors in isolation.

The Mishkan represents, in a way of speaking, God's home in the world. We can utilize the principles behind the building of the Mishkan to help perfect the home that God constructed for us. When it comes to international development, we know that intention matters, as does genuine engagement with involved parties. We also know that just as it takes a nation to fulfill the Torah, it takes a wide circle of communities addressing multiple interconnected issues to build a just world. By visiting www.ajws.org/justaid you can learn more about the campaign to bring U.S. foreign assistance more in line with our sacred duty.

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Daniel Bloom

Daniel Bloom is an Australian-born environmentalist who currently works as a program associate at Hazon. He lives with his wife in New York City.