Celebrating Volunteering in our Community
If you’d wanted to hear my sermon, you’d have come to Shul, but...
This Shabbat we celebrate the immense contribution of our volunteers. No community can function without those who give so generously of their time and expertise and we are especially blessed. I think it’s vital that once in a while we thank them; they should never be taken for granted.
This week’s parashah is perfect for discussing this topic. It begins with the call for donations to the Mishkan:
דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את תרומתי
Speak to the Children of Israel and have them take an offering for Me; from everyone whose heart motivates him, you shall take My offering. (Shemot 25:2)
The rabbis explain that the offerings needed to be voluntary and given with a full heart. There are basic responsibilities – other offerings were obligatory – a kind of taxation, but when it comes to building the Mishkan, the donation had to be freely given. Our volunteers don’t do things grudgingly, but freely give of their time with love and devotion.
The Mishnah in Avot notes that the world exists on three pillars – Torah, divine service or prayer and acts of kindness. They are equated – the entire edifice of community is dependent on these three. This is something that the Charedi communities do extremely well – creating huge networks of people, gemachim, and support projects to deliver voluntary services to people in their communities and beyond. In Charedi communities, there is a real sense that one’s contribution is vital and that even if there are lots of Torah students, volunteers, or whatever, one’s own contribution is indispensible. We are quite good at this but we still have much to learn.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the late-19th-century founder of the Musar movement was once approached by someone who claimed that he only had one hour a week available what to study during that hour. Rabbi Yisrael replied that he should learn Musar, because that would enable him to realise that he actually had more than one hour free!
This sentiment applies to volunteering too. I suspect that many people feel that they either have no time or are not well-suited to volunteering. This is rarely true; adapting Rabbi Yisrael’s advice – if you were to meet our volunteers, and those who benefit from their involvement and you’ll discover quickly how you really want to volunteer and how much time you can make available.
One other point – while of course, volunteering enables the community to run smoothly, to provide services that might not otherwise be available and to assist individuals, anyone who does volunteer or is engaged in any other type of chessed will tell you another side of the experience – they gain at least as much themselves as the recipient from the experience of volunteering. Conceptually, this is no surprise: the act of giving is itself something godly: Jewish life is guided by the principle that we 'walk in God’s path' by emulating Him. Since God is the giver and we are the recipients, altruistic acts replicate the divine model, bringing godliness and satisfaction to those who perform them.
On behalf of everyone in the community, may you be blessed with success, good health and continue to inspire me and others.