I once attended the shiva of a prominent member of our shul at which his grandson spoke and said that his grandfather used to say “it was a privilege to be able to pay income tax!” The grandfather had grown up in a home with very limited means. When he was eventually in a financial position to be to be able to give whole-heartedly to the tax system as well as the other charitable causes he was supporting, it was a source of great pride.

I’m sure our Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, would be delighted if more people in the country felt the same way. Had he been confident of such an outlook, we could have had a different budget this week!

Contradictory attitudes to giving appear in a key verse in this week’s parasha in respect of the Tabernacle. In chapter 35, verse 5, we read that the Jewish people are instructed: “Collect from among yourselves a contribution-offering for G-d” This implies that we are speaking of a compulsory contribution which was collected for G-d’s house, like it or not. But the verse continues: “Every person, whose heart inspires him to generosity should bring the contribution of G-d.” This part of the verse suggests we are talking about a voluntary giving which depended on the feelings of the giver.

Which one is it: a compulsory tax or a voluntary donation?

The great 16th/17th century commentator, Rabbi Ephraim Lunschitz (1150-1619), author of the work, Kli Yakar, explained that there are two types of attitude to the acquisition of wealth. Some people regard their wealth as a result of their industriousness and business acumen. They find it difficult to part with their hard-earned money. Regarding these people the verse says “collect… a contribution…for G-d.” The Tabernacle Taxman will take his share irrespective of the outlook of the individual.

Others recognise that ultimately, all wealth belongs to the Almighty. They see themselves as custodians who are in the fortunate position of being able to share what they have with others. When the announcement was made to build a Tabernacle, these people came forward, even before they were asked, to contribute materials for the construction. Regarding this group the verse says their generosity inspired them to bring “the contribution of G-d.” They were giving back to G-d what was always His anyway.

Whether we are running a country or a local council, a school or a shul, we can have legitimate debate on how much money should be raised and how it should be spent. But once our representatives have decided the tariff, we should always aim to be generous, acknowledging the benefits provided by our institutions, and ultimately, that all wealth is a gift from G-d.