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G-d spoke to Moses… “Speak to the Israelites and let them make a contribution… you shall take My contribution from everyone who wishes to give… this is the contribution you shall take from them, - gold, silver, and copper… they shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell amongst them” (25:extracts from 1-8).
These words form the opening of the remainder of the Book of Exodus: with the exception of the story of the Golden Calf, it is concerned with the preparations for and the construction of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle, or the portable Temple.
Teruma – the name of the Parasha – translated as ‘contribution’, is used three times in the above opening – even where it could be replaced with a simple pronoun. What may be learnt from the Torah’s use of Teruma three times, very close to one another?
The Talmud (Megilla 29b) brings the tradition that the repetition of the word Teruma refers to three different funds. These are: firstly, the mandatory half shekel on all males aged 20 and over to make the sockets for the boards for walls of the Tabernacle, secondly, the resources to buy communal offerings, and finally, the voluntary donations for the building of the Tabernacle itself.
Another explanation may be suggested, based on the spirit of the appeal, and that the plain reading of the text refers to voluntary donations only.
The Rambam (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 10:8-14) brings the Torah tradition that there are eight degrees of tzedaka (loosely translated as charity, but in fact mandatory by Torah Law), which he lists in descending order of virtue. The highest three, which concern us here, are the following:
1. Helping a person to become self-supporting so that he no longer has to rely on financial assistance from others.
2. Giving, where the donor and recipient are unaware of each other.
3. Giving, where the donor knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the donor.
The spirit of these three highest degrees of tzedaka may be applied to both the request, and the enthusiastic voluntary donations for the building of the Mishkan – as explained below.
The Tabernacle was the place where the Divine Presence of G-d was most intense: as the text records, “It is there where I will set My meetings with you…. (communicating) everything that I shall command you regarding the Israelites” (25:22). Later on in the text, this idea is expressed more fully: “I shall sanctify my meeting there with the Israelites… I shall rest My presence among the Israelites, and I shall be their G-d” (29:43,45). In other words the Tabernacle was a structure through which G-d would guide, and be close to, the Chosen People.
Thus it was precisely those people who made voluntary contributions to the building of the Tabernacle that enabled the Israelites to become spiritually closer to G-d. In bringing G-d to the people, as it were, they made the entire Israelite nation spiritually self-supporting – giving them a ‘hot line’ to the Creator. (This may well fit into the Almighty specifying that the voluntary contribution would be ‘My contribution’ – through this contribution, G-d Himself would be closer to the Israelites.)
In addition, the bulk of the gifts were donated in such a way that ‘the donor and recipient are unaware of each other’. For the text records that the various items of metal, animal, and vegetable origin were processed to become part of the Tabernacle structure: implying that by the time the Tabernacle was completed it would have been impossible to recognize who donated which original bar of gold or talent of silver.
There was one exception – the princes (nesi-im) whose gifts fell under the third category of where ‘the donor knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the donor’. For the Torah records that they brought the very valuable ‘Shoham stones, and stones for the settings of the Ephod and the Breastplate…’ (35:27). It stands to reason that these items would have been donated whole and used whole – not melted down to produce a mass out of which a new structure could be shaped. Thus the individual princes would have been the only people who would have been able to recognize their own contributions in the Tabernacle after it was constructed.
So the threefold use of the word ‘teruma’ denotes, according to this explanation, that the spirit in which the Israelites contributed to the Tabernacle was within the scope of three highest levels of tzedaka detailed above.
Underlying the discussion, it must be noted that the Israelites were required to contribute ‘for Me’. Rashi comments that the term ‘for Me’ indicates that people should contribute for the Tabernacle purely as an act of serving G-d rather than for any ulterior motive – such as social pressure, or quest of honor. Rabbi E.E. Dessler (recorded in Michtav Eliyahu) divides society into two types of people – givers and takers. The giver donates with the view of making the world a better place to live in – primarily for others. The taker donates with the view of making the world a better place to live in – primarily for himself. The donations for the Tabernacle – under all the three headings of tzedaka – shared the underlying characteristic of being of such a nature that they could never bring permanent personal glory to the donors. One could only give effectively by being a ‘giver’. For the Tabernacle was not covered in donor’s plagues with bright gold letters. And even the Shoham stones only contained the name of the Tribes of Israel – not the donors’.
The spirit of giving unselfishly, and later receiving through the beautiful relationship created (such as the Israelites had with G-d through the Tabernacle), may be illustrated by the following story:
One day a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school found that he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry. He decided that he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water.
She thought he looked hungry, so she brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, “How much do I owe you?”
“You don’t owe me anything,” she replied, “Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness.”
“Then I thank you from all my heart!”
As that young man, Howard Kelly left the house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in G-d became stronger too. He had been ready to give up and quit.
Years later, that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease. Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down to the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor’s gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to the case. After a long struggle, the battle was finally won.
Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, wrote something on the edge, and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she plucked up courage and looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill.
She read these words… “Paid in full with one glass of milk. (Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly”.
My warmest thanks to my teacher and mentor, R. Mordechai Berkovitch, for giving me a copy of the above story.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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