Parshas Terumah: Living Through Giving

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Terumah, the Bnei Yisrael are commanded regarding the building of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary that would accompany them during their desert wanderings, from where the Almighty would dwell amongst them (keviyachol) and within them (Shemos 25:8), and where the kohanim would perform the avodah (service).  Moshe was commanded to collect donations from the people, including donations of: gold, silver, copper, turquoise, purple and scarlet wools, linen and goats’ hair, ram skins dyed red and techashim skins, shittim wood, oil, spices, and precious stones for the apron and the breastplate (Shemos 25:2-7).  

Hashem said to Moshe to speak to the Bnei Yisrael: וְיִקְחוּלִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּלאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶתתְּרוּמָתִי, and take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart will motivate him (to give), you shall take My portion (25:2).  Targum Yonasan b. Uziel explains this verse as follows: מַלֵּיל עִם בְּנֵי יִשְרָאֵל וְיִסְבוּן קֳדָמַי אַפְרְשׁוּתָא מִן כָּל דְּיִתְרְעֵי לִבֵּיהּ וְלָא בְּאַלְמוּתָא תִסְבוּן יַת אַפְרָשׁוּתִיSpeak unto the children of Israel, that they shall set apart (take) before me a separation: of every one whose heart is willing, but not by force, you shall take my separation.  

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Yonasan b. Uzziel clarifies this phrase to mean, Do not use force or methods of coercion for this collection.  Although everyone, whether poor or rich, must give the half shekel (Shemos 30:13), the contribution to the Mishkan was voluntary.  The collection of money for the Mishkan is different from the collection of charity.  Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:53) explains that charity is an act of justice (as the word tzedaka implies), not mercy or chessed.  The Torah allows the taking of charity by force.  There is an explicit halacha in Bava Basra 8b to the effect that it is permissible to remove objects from the home of a prosperous person who refuses to give charity, even on Friday just before sundown.  Most Rishonim agree that there is a legal lien on one’s charity similar to the lien of a borrower.  

“Why did the Torah eliminate the construction of the Mishkan from that class of activity which does not require consent on the part of the giver?  Man is basically a homeless being.  No matter how large and opulent his home, he is exposed.  He is subject to the vicissitudes of life, subject to nature – which at best is indifferent to man, at worst is hostile – and subject to an inscrutable future.  There is only one home where man gains security: G-d is called Me’onah, an abode (Deut.33:27).  The only home where man can find security is in the Ribbono Shel Olam.  G-d told Moshe not to collect the money for the Mishkan by using force, because the Mishkan was to be built only if the nation felt the need to build a home for G-d on their own.  For G-d to descend from infinity into a Mishkan built by man is, keviyachol, a sacrificial act on His part.  This act of self-contraction was a sacrifice He was willing to make, but only if the people themselves wanted a Mishkan and were willing to contribute to build it” (Chumash Masores HaRav Shemos p.224-225).  

When it came to the building of the Mishkan, we had to want to want to give.  Hashem was waiting for us to demonstrate our love for Him, and our desire to be close to Him, by contributing to the Mishkan fund of our own free will.  The lesson is clear for us today, even in the absence of the Mishkan/Mikdash: If we want a life of connection, spirituality, Torah and mitzvos, Hashem will come down (so to speak) and enrich our lives with His ever-present Presence.  

וְיִקְחוּלִי תְּרוּמָה, and take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him to give.”  

Ha’Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein quotes Rabbi Chaim Palachi who teaches that “the letters of the word תְּרוּמָה (a portion) can be rearranged to spell המותרthe extra.  This implies that there is a certain correlation between המותר – the extras and luxuries that a person enjoys – and תְּרוּמָה – the charitable donations he gives.  A person’s commitment to charity is measured against the luxuries which he allows himself.  If it is clear from his lifestyle that he is not frugal with money, and is prepared to spend money on extras and luxuries – המותר, then Heaven pays careful heed to what occurs when someone comes knocking at his door, collecting for a worthy cause.  Is he as free with his תְּרוּמָה (donation) as he is with המותר?  Does the same generosity that manifests itself in his own lifestyle manifest itself in his spending for mitzvos?”

Concludes Rav Zilberstein, “Aside from the primary danger of luxuries, which is that people become accustomed to indulging in unnecessary pleasures, luxuries also cause judgement to be brought on a person in Heaven.  ‘If you had money for these luxuries,’ he will be asked, ‘where were you when you were asked to give charity?’” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach Shemos, p.426-427). 

We must learn the proper balance in life between the תְּרוּמָה – the portion and donation we give to tzedaka and Torah – and המותר, the extras and luxuries that we often consider ‘essential’ in our lives.  

The great and holy R’ Levi Yitzchak m’Berditchev (1740–1809) once traveled around to nearby villages to collect funds for a bride who was the daughter of a prominent man, yet who lacked the funds to marry off his daughter.  In one town, he chanced upon a certain rabbi who, when he heard the purpose of R’ Levi Yitzchak’s visit, blessed him that Hashem be at his side, and that the needy Jew should merit to arrange a wedding for his daughter with abundance.  Reb Levi Yitzchak replied with a Torah insight: “The Torah teaches us ‘And Malki-Tzedek, king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine (to welcome Avraham)… and he blessed him.’  First, ‘he brought out bread and wine,’ and only afterward, ‘he blessed him.’  Said Reb Levi Yitzchak to the rabbi, “first one must give, and only afterward may one extend blessings” (Loving and Beloved, by S. Raz, p.191-192).  

After the redemption from Egypt, the crossing of the Reed Sea, and the giving of the Torah, it was time to build an abode for the RS”O to dwell amongst us.  And who shall contribute?  Any one whose heart motivated him to give: וְיִקְחוּלִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּלאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ.  The Mishkan further teaches us about the balance between giving to others, תְּרוּמָה, and living for ourselves, המותר.  

Let us be sure that the lives we lead are elevated, sanctified and ennobled by closeness to G-d and giving and doing for others, so that we will truly merit: וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָםand they shall make Me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell amongst them (25:8).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 

Michal

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