I receive hundreds of emails a week, most unread and relegated to the cyber trash heap. Yet, an email this week piqued my interest. It claimed that Ashkenazi Jews have a much higher IQ than the general public.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we do things smarter, it merely means that we have the capability of doing things smarter. It may also allow Anti-Semites to justify their claim that they are not biased or racist – rather they hold us up on a pedestal and we have failed to meet their lofty expectations. Furthermore, the inequality of demands in achieving Middle East peace may also stem from the world view that Israel (Jews), due to their collective brain power, will find a way to succeed regardless of the obstacles placed before them. As wrong as it may sound, it may just be right.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Hank Pellissier, the author of that article. However, out of the twenty reasons he gives to explain our higher IQ, his penultimate explanation resonates most with me. He states “that it is due to “empathetic rabbis”. The high-level “empaths” impact their congregations, making their lives better and promoting their ambitions and enterprises. Wow! In all my years in the pulpit I never realized what a profound impact I was having on the collective genius. As much as I would like to take credit, a minimum standard of intellectual honesty would refute that position and negate its hypothesis.”

It is not that I disagree with the concept; I merely disagree with taking credit. This week we read Parshat Sh’kalim, the first of four special portions that lead up to Pesach. (Yes, only six weeks to go.) It deals with “giving” and the collective responsibility of the Jew to be part of the community and help assist in the requirements and needs of the Temple. If we as a people have learned empathy, it isn’t on the backs of the rabbis, it is on the backs of the wider Jewish community. The rabbi may be the conduit, but it is the “neshama,” the soul and heart of the Jewish people, that manifests a change in our ultimate destiny.

Jewishly speaking, “tis the season to make others jolly”. Over the next few weeks Jews give a higher proportion of their charitable dollars to ease the burdens of their brethren. On Purim (two weeks from Sunday) there is an obligation of “matanot laevyonim,” of giving gifts to poor people. Every year on the Purim holiday, our shul will collects thousands of dollars to be transferred directly to needy families in Israel. Inasmuch as we have to support our local community, it is equally important that we never forsake Zion and its needy inhabitants. (By the way, mishloach manot, the giving our friends food gift baskets on Purim has to do with friendship and not charity.)

Passover is next. The stores are already salivating in expectation of a bumper season. Kosher prices are set to mirror the inflationary concerns in Venezuela. And it impacts on many of our co-religionists, who may not be overly zealous about Kashrut year wide, yet seem to be exceptionally pious over Passover. Our publicly stated shul policy is that no one will be turned away from attending our Seder or meals over Passover due to a lack of funds.  It’s not me being kind and generous, it is an ethos and philosophy that is part and parcel of authentic Judaism.  I continue to be humbled by the generosity of the Jewish community who devote time and effort to ease the burden on their brethren. It is this empathy towards others that catapult our people into an intelligence that far exceeds brain power alone.

The coinage mentioned in the Torah is a “shekel,” which refers to a measure of weight. (In the good old days, coins actually had a value based on the silver content.) Yet perhaps a deeper understanding of the shekel may be not in the weight of silver but in the weighing of the mind.  To give or not to give is not the question, as our collective passion is to be charitable. The “W”eighing refers to the three “W”s; the where, why and to whom. I know some people may say that an orthodox rabbi should not promote evolution (even though many biblical commentators agree with evolution). However, I believe the evolutionary process has done wonders in developing a stream in humanity with greater empathy and sensitivity towards their fellow man.

To be charitable it is insufficient merely to dispense monetary gifts. One has to use their elevated IQ and intellect to determine what is important and what is not. Should I give charity to people whose core values are the antithesis of my own? Should I give charity to people who are doing little to better themselves and are reliant on the community for hand outs? Should I give my charity to organizations like OXFAM or UNHRC that continuously berate and condemn the State of Israel? To give is the easy part, to give smartly, a bit more difficult.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack


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