GIVE OR TAKE
The language of Shemot 25:2 presents something of a problem to the commentators. Moshe Rabbeinu is told to speak to the Jewish People and tell them that they are to take terumah,1 from every person, for various aspects of the Mishkan.2 What does this actually mean? If Moshe is to speak to the entire nation, exactly who are they to take terumah from? Sforno, thus, concludes that Moshe is actually being told to tell specifically the members of the Sanhedrin to collect terumah from the nation. The problem is, though, that the verse states that Moshe is to speak to Bnei Yisrael, the Children of Israelž the entire nation. If this is so, the problem that is bothering most of the commentators is thus: what does this term take or collect mean? Why did God not simply direct Moshe to instruct the Jewish People to give terumah?
Rashi, therefore, explains that the first demand of this directive is actually for the members of the nation to set aside funds from which they are to then give this terumah. Inherent in Rashi’s words, and built also upon the further words of the verse, is the additional concept that this donation to the Mishkan is not to be motivated by a sense of obligation but is to be a result of a desire to contribute towards this edifice to God. Maharal, Gur Aryeh connects these two concepts with a reference to the limitation of twenty percent that is placed upon one’s contributions to tzedakah, charity. One is not to give all his funds towards a cause regardless of its worthiness. From his/her funds, one is to separate a portion from which the person gives to charitable and other causes. This portion is to reflect this person’s generosity and commitment but, nevertheless, there must first be the recognition that the funds are first personal and for the benefit, use and sustenance of the individual. Only with such a mindset is a person to then give to variant causes. Only with such a mindset was one to give towards this terumah.
I have often heard of individuals who begin their request for donations by referring to the fact that the whole world belongs to Hashem and that, as such, the funds that are in the hands of any individual really belong to God. Defining the person as, therefore, only a caretaker of these funds, the one requesting the donation asserts that, as simply a caretaker, one is obligated to use these funds in a charitable and/or communal manner. While there is truth to the idea that we are indeed caretakers of the various assets that God has chosen to bestow upon us – and therefore are responsible for how we use these assets -- from these comments on this verse there would seem to be a challenge to an assertion that a person’s category is one only of a caretaker, at least as this concept is portrayed by these requestors of funds. There is a connection between our assets and ourselves; our use of our assets is, indeed, to reflect our being and support our being. We cannot see our assets simply in terms of the charitable obligations that may be placed upon us because of them. They are our assets and they are to be used in connection with our being. They are connected to us. Our giving is, as such, not simply to be motivated by a sense of obligation but is also to be motivated by a desire to give, a desire to reach and meet the charitable and Torah goals reflected in the donation. The building of the Mishkan was not to be a result, solely, of God’s command but also a result of the desire of the individual to, thereby, connect with God.
Within our world of mitzvot, commands, our focus is often not on what we feel but rather on our action and their representation of the manifestation of the Will of God. We act simply because God has commanded us to do so, not as a result of our personal wills (except, of course, the will to follow the Will of God). What we are encountering here is a clear realization that there are cases where this is not enough. To accomplish God’s objective for us there are times where we must also act in accord with our own wills. There are times that the motivation behind the action must be part of the focus. To ensure the development of such proper emotions or feelings, we must, at times, be given the ability to choose what action we wish to undertake. In such cases, He cannot command us what to do. He may, perhaps, instruct us as to what is proper and positive; then, though, to meet our purpose, we must be given the opportunity to choose.
This is precisely what happened in the context of the Mishkan. God directed us to take from our resources, to gather together portions of our assets, and designate them as a collection to be used for special purposes. In this way, He instructed us as to the value of using our resources in the service of a greater purpose, in this case the building of a place for God. Yet, the Mishkan could never have become a place where God meets the nation, and the nation meets God, if its construction was only the result of command, of the expression of God’s Will. It also had to include an expression of the human will of the people, of their desire to have within their midst a place for God. The gifts for the Mishkan thus also had to come from the hearts of the nation. They had to want to give from their own, from their resources, towards this construction.3
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, Humility, Nishma Journal V argues that many people do not understand the Torah concept of humility for they assume that one with this character trait would continuously deny any specialness. Someone humble, the world thinks, would never think so highly of himself/herself as to believe that he/she has unique abilities or accomplishments. Rabbi Feldman maintains just the opposite, that, in fact, the highest manifestation of humility can only be found in one who recognizes his/her greatness. It is easy for one without talent to be humble; there is actually no reason to be otherwise. It is the talented person who is aware of his/her talent who reflects humility when he/she does not allow this recognition of self to result in haughtiness. Similarly it is the one who acknowledges his/her ownership of assets, with the accompanied responsibilities, who can be truly generous for when such a person makes a decision and desires to give, the act involves and defines the self. The act is unquestionably from the self.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 It is difficult to find an appropriate English translation for the word terumah. It represents an amount or portion separated for some significant or holy purpose. .
2 Rashi states that the verse is actually referring to three different forms of terumah.
3 In a similar vein, I once read a piece from the Sridei Eish who applied a comparable concept to explain why mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro, commandments between Man and Man, generally do not have brachot, blessings, associated with them. He asserts, in regard to these mitzvot, that the action alone is often not sufficient. It is important that theses acts are done in the context of an appropriate emotion. As such, since blessings specifically refer to our undertaking this action because we are so commanded by God, it would be inappropriate to say a bracha in this context. We are not to do such mitzvot simply because we are so commanded by God. We are also to do them because we wish to, because we have these emotions that lead to this action. The donations to the Mishkan reflect this idea also within the context of mitzvot bein adam l’Makom, commands between Man and God.
© Nishma 2011
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© 2010 NISHMA