Parashat Vayakhel

Initiative and Self-Sufficiency

God met the Israelites' need to relate to God on their own terms--we must do the same.

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For the Israelites in the desert, the needs were religious and spiritual. For communities in the developing world, the needs can be material and economic or changes in government policies and priorities. These communities need loans to start farms and small businesses. They need technical expertise to learn how to implement drip irrigation to save water. When we provide aid to the developing world it has to be in a way that is culturally sensitive and allows those we are helping to take the initiative themselves.

Just as God allowed every Israelite to take part in the construction of the Mishkan, our aid to the developing world should involve projects that enable every member of the community to benefit. We give someone a loan not to buy bread for a day, but to buy seeds and plant a crop that will feed them on a continual basis. This is the highest level of tzedakah because it meets needs, it maintains dignity, and it fosters structural change.

Not-for-profit organizations like American Jewish World Service work with local grassroots organizations in the developing world that directly address the needs of their communities. Their goal is to provide funding and support to groups working on the ground with their own constituency to become self-sufficient.

Just as every individual has unique needs, so does every community. To donate our time and our money at the highest level is to aid others in their ability to take care of themselves. We must listen to what the other is asking and begin our work from there. We cannot be so arrogant as to provide what we think they need. Just as God met the Israelites' need to relate to God on their own terms, so too we must meet the needs of the developing world on their own terms. This is a sacred endeavor.

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Rabbi Ahud Sela

Rabbi Ahud Sela is an Assistant Rabbi at Sinai Temple, in Los Angeles, California.