In the world of fund raising there is a rule of thumb called the "eight-twenty". According to this principle, eighty percent of the donations come from twenty percent of the donors. A corollary principle is that it pays to devote eighty percent of one's energy and attention to that twenty percent of large donors because they are more productive. As one of the basic laws that drives modern economics, unfortunately it's also one of the central causes of descrimination and inequity. After all, it pays to invest in the more productive segments of the population, doesn't it?
This week's Torah portion discusses the manner in which ancient Israel supported its favorite institution, that of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Torah highlights the fact that the people as a whole volunteer their possessions and services to build it. God enunciates the ideal at the outset, "Tell the Israelites to bring Me gifts, you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him." By implication it is understood that if the people fail to contribute, the project would be aborted. Shortly after God's request/demand, the narrative stresses the people's extraordinary compliance. Indeed, contributions flowed in at such a furious pace that word has to be issued to end the campaign.
The lesson to be learned: the fate of any institution is determined by the measures taken to build it and preserve it. The torah presents us with the path for survival, it is called volunteerism; for if we do not give of our time and our money, who will? As our sages taught fifteen hundred years ago, if I am not for myself, who is, and if not now, when.
Rabbi Paul Hoffman