When you answer the phone you never know who will be on the other end of the line. You can get a pleasant surprise to hear from someone you love dearly. You can also be pestered by someone who is trying to sell you something you don’t want. It is tempting to be rude to the telemarketers who disturb your life, usually at meal times, with a well-rehearsed line of sales talk which gives you no chance to think carefully. But you have to feel sorry for the people who make the calls who are only trying to make a living and probably don’t enjoy what they have to do.
What this has to do with the Torah reading is more than merely the general ethical duty (Parashat K’doshim, Lev. 19) not to oppress people or mislead them with selective information. It raises an aspect of telemarketing that can be called telefundraising. The name of today’s portion, T’rumah, is the modern Hebrew word for a donation. In Biblical literature it means an offering, with the technical connotation of a percentage of one’s earnings which is the due of the kohen. The root of the word denotes to lift up, and hence to set something apart for sacred purposes. In Mishnaic Hebrew the noun gives birth to a verb, taram, to donate.
In Israel there are so many good causes for which telefundraisers solicit t’rumot, and it is hard to refuse them. We just have to hope that the telemarketers who are so eloquent about their causes give a personal example of generosity. In England a certain Quaker used to say, “Friend, my sympathy is worth a five-pound note: what is yours worth?”