Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Terumah - 5777

Dear friends,

After receiving the Ten Commandments and the laws that we learned about in last week's Parasha, this week Moses informs the Children of Israel that they will be constructing a Tabernacle, which will serve as a portable sanctuary as they head to the promised land.

The portion of Terumah begins with these words in Exodus 25:

"1.The Lord spoke to Moses saying: 2. Speak to the Children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering: of every person whose heart so desires, you shall take My offering. 3. And this is the offering which you shall take of them, gold, silver and brass. (Verses 4-7 list other items which will be needed) 8. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them."

Note that the verb used for making an offering is 'Veyikhu lee', 'they take for Me' rather than 'Veyitnu lee', which would mean 'they give for Me'. In asking for offerings, it seems that we are asking the giver 'to take' rather than 'to give'. How come?

A simple answer could be that when it comes to giving to G-d, like in the case for building His sanctuary, since G-d owns everything, the giver is only returning that which belongs to G-d in the first place and, therefore, we use the word 'taking' rather than 'giving'.

In this Parasha we also learn the concept of giving voluntarily. Moses will be accepting gifts from 'every person whose heart so desires'. Unlike a tax, a tithing or the mandatory half-shekel, which are required by Jewish law, in this Parasha it is all up to the good heart and generosity of the contributor. The amount is determined by the donor alone and not by any commandment.

Our great commentator Ibn Ezra explains that the Torah is teaching us that, when a person gives willingly and with a full heart, that person is also a 'receiver, a taker'. The joy of the giver is not any less than the joy of the taker because the gift was made with a full heart. Therefore, the Torah says, 'Veyikhu', they take, rather than 'Veyitnu', they give.

We always hear about how important it is to be a giver rather than a taker. It would seem that, when it comes to charitable giving, it is alright, and, in fact, we are encouraged to be a 'taker'. A 'taker', in the sense of being the recipient of the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from knowing that we fulfilled the Mitzvah of sharing G-d's blessing with others. This Mitzvah has no end. There are so many institutions and causes that need the help of 'good-hearted individuals'.

This week's Parasha teaches us the value of 'taking' from what we have and 'giving' it to important causes. That is the true meaning of sharing, because it comes from our heart and soul. Such a gift is called a 'Terumah', from the root word 'Ram', elevated or high. We take a materialistic gift, which we are happy to donate to improve G-d's world, and elevate it to a spiritual realm, indicating our appreciation to G-d for His blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram