The Exodus:5 Project
Take from among you gifts to the LORD; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the LORD: gold, silver, and copper Exodus 35:5
The best birthday gift I ever received was from my family on my sixtieth birthday. I really have been blessed with everything I wanted in life, so when they asked me what I wanted for that significant milestone, I told them I wanted to be a philanthropist. After we talked about it some, they surprised me with a small fund, a checkbook, and a web site and logo (designed by my son). It is called The Sixty Fund and the logo is the Hebrew letter samekh, which has the numerical value of sixty. As I explain on the web site, it is also the first letter in the word somekh meaning “lift up” or “uphold.”
I got to define the terms of The Sixty Fund. I decided to offer a letter of commendation, a certificate and a check for $18 to individuals who exhibit wisdom, compassion, courage or generosity and might not otherwise be recognized for it. As awards go, $18 is not very much. Then again, our family resources do not allow me to have a substantial depth of resources.
The web site is easy to find, especially if you are reading this column my web page (you can reach it from the home page). Or, you can click on this link. There you will find the stories of people who inspired me – the school secretary who talked a shooter out of his gun, the two water-company employees who spent all night opening a frozen valve that averted a water shut-off during the hottest time of the summer, the couple who served their daughter’s canceled wedding dinner to the homeless, the garbageman who searched the dump for a stranger’s lost wedding ring.
The fact is that lots of people do not cash the checks I send them. In fact, I do not know if some of them ever reach their intended recipients. It does not matter to me in the least. I never feel so good as when I can acknowledge the act of righteousness that elevates a corner of humanity just a little bit.
When I talk with people about it, I call it microphilanthropy. Nobody will get rich on my affirmation of their goodness, but I hope that by letting them know that someone is paying attention they will encourage others to follow their fine examples.
Occasionally, someone will ask if they can make a contribution to The Sixty Fund. I always turn them down. First of all, the fund is not incorporated or in any other way in conformance with the tax code for charitable giving. It’s just my money. If they contribute, it is income and I have to pay taxes on it…more than $18 for any meaningful gift.
Plus, I tell them (and now tell you), you can do this, too. Maybe your priorities are not the same as mine. There are heroes in every realm out there volunteering their expertise, loving a neighbor as themselves, showing profound respect to the aged, clothing the naked, putting books in the hands of hungry readers or food in the mouths of hungry children. Your gift does not prompt their efforts; it rewards the unprompted decency that makes this a kinder, gentler world. We certainly need practitioners of kindness these days, especially in this country.
The verse that frames this brief essay is about collecting contributions for the construction of the Tabernacle. The gifts are to be voluntary – not a tax or levy, like so many requirements in the Bible. Moses is instructed to find people whose hearts are moved to give to build something that does not yet exist. That’s an admirable thing to do, as anyone who has ever participated in a capital campaign can tell you.
But I have discovered that at least as often as the heart is moved to give, the gift instead moves the heart. A gift to build is an expression of hope. A gift to acknowledge is an expression of gratitude. Each elevates in a particular way, one motivated externally and the other, to my satisfaction, internally.
Sometimes I wonder if the gratification I get out of my small gifts is more for my benefit than the recipients’. In the end, I don’t think it matters. Their hearts moved them already, and I am proud to bring the gift.