Terumah literally means “gift”. This week’s sidra is about giving Hashem a gift from the heart, which is then used to build Him a dwelling place.
“Tell B’nei Yisrael to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” Sh’mot 25:2
The wording of this verse in the Hebrew is peculiar and there is much debate as to what this passage really means, as the literally interpretation is “let them TAKE for Me”. Are the people being asked to take something or to give something? I sorted through many wonderful commentaries looking for clarification on this matter, and the explanation I related to best is from Rabbi Avraham Ariel Trugman, whose Sidra commentary, “Orchard of Delights”, I quote from regularly, week after week. He explains as follows:
“By giving of one’s time, money or energy to others, one is actually receiving as well. By assisting others we often take or receive more than we give, as our hearts fill with sentiments of love and goodness.”
Vayiqra Rabbah 34 tells us that the poor man who receives charity does more for the rich man than the rich man does for him.
This “gift” was not really a gift. How can we possibly give something to Hashem, who owns everything to begin with? Therefore it is appropriate that He tells Moshe, “let them take”, not, “let them give”.
I think the message is clearly one of the importance of tzedakah in Hashem’s eyes. We are asked to take a portion of what He has given us, and voluntarily contribute with a willing heart, and by doing so, we will be building a place for Hashem to dwell within us. Ultimately, the only gift we can give is ourselves, our very life.
This sidra is all about building a home for Hashem within our life. Building a mind, body and soul that is fit to house His Presence. The true resting place of the Shechina is the heart (mind) of every Jew, not a physical structure. But how is it possible to make one’s heart a mishkan for the Shechina?
I am going to draw on my many years of contractor’s wife experience to help paint this picture. I was married for many years to an amazing man, of blessed memory, who was a building contractor par excellence. I spent many years on his job sites, and want to draw here from the imagery. Let’s look at the reality of physical buildings, and the different types of contractors that build them:
- Some buildings go up very quickly, but corners are cut and soon after completion problems with the structure begin to surface. Very often, the contractor is inexperienced, or lazy, or possibly both.
- Some buildings are erected on weak foundations. Without the ground being properly prepared, or without using the proper amount of re-bar, or without using the proper thickness of concrete, or using poor quality concrete. Eventually, the too weak foundation will give under the pressure and weight of the structure built upon it, and the structure will begin to crumble.
- Some building projects seem to never end, taking forever to finish. This is typically because someone didn’t plan the financing properly and they run out of funds midway through the project. This can also happen when a shortcut or other dangerous action has been caught, and the construction is shut down until the repair or reinforcement has been completed.
- And then there is the ideal situation. A building that begins on a firm foundation, and that proceeds at the proper pace to ensure that all details have been completed with the proper materials, and at the proper stage. Strong buildings take time and are not erected overnight. Every detail of the blueprints and specs must be followed, no corners are to be cut. A good contractor, if ever in doubt, will put additional supports in place. Better safe than sorry, as they say. Ideally, I will add, the job site should be tidied daily. If there is trash, debris, materials and tools scattered everywhere, it indicates a lack of order. It is very difficult to work in a cluttered environment.
So, now ask yourself, what kind of contractor am I? As we are building our structure, we need to keep in mind that we have a very particular client, so the attention to detail is very important! Almost a full 1/3 of the book of Sh’mot contains detailed instructions for building the mishkan. Without the blueprints and accompanying specs, a building will not be properly built. The instructions dictate the details, and following them dictates the strength and beauty of the final structure. For example, if you don’t know the proper snow-load for your area, your roof will potentially collapse under the weight of the snow.
The mishkan’s blueprints convey deep concepts with every detail. I am certainly not qualified to explain all the deep concepts underlying these details, but I realize every minute detail has tremendous meaning and a deeper lesson to be taught. I will draw on the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov to give you a few examples:
“The Torah is called “testimony – it is testimony to G-d. For whoever has a real brain in his head can understand with his intellect the fact of the Reality and Unity of G-d. From whence does such a Torah emanate? A Torah that begins with the Act of Creation and concludes with Deuteronomy, with all of its laws and bylaws; all the Books of the Prophets and Hagiographa; the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, the Kabbalah and all the dialectics that accompany these works – how it all fits together with precision. One who possesses even a small awareness of the Torah and its contents realizes that it is not a man-made presentation, but testimony to our Creator, from Whom the entire Torah emanated. Thus, the Torah is testimony to the Reality and Unity of G-d. Therefore it is written, ‘The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d'” (Sh’mot 32:16; Likutey Halakhot VII, pg 30-16a)
“For the commandment is a lamp, The teaching (Torah) is a light, and the way to life is the rebuke that disciplines.” (Mishlei 6:23)
Rashi tells us that Moshe had difficulty envisioning the menorah and how it could be crafted from a solid piece of gold, so Hashem told him to throw the gold into the fire and it would emerge as a menorah.
“The Torah is truly difficult to grasp by itself. We do not know how or where to start. We acquire assistance from Above. So we throw it into the fire, implying we are doing something. When G-d sees that we have made our effort, He will help mold and form our menorah – our ability to serve Him and observe the Torah. The most important thing is our desire to serve Him.” (Likutey Halachot I, pg 169a-338)
From these two examples alone, we can see that there is a wonderful, deeper message in each and every detail, if we are willing to spend the time and effort to seek it out.
We now know the prerequisites for building this structure: we must have the detailed blueprints and specs in hand, we must understand how to read them properly, we must have plenty of time set aside to properly pay attention to each detail, we need to have the proper amount of funds available, and we need to make sure above all that our heart is genuinely committed to the task at hand.
Only the willing, generous heart can participate. We cannot build our structure for Hashem solely out of a sense of duty, obligation or debt. A generous, willing heart is one that is fueled by love. And only then will one possess the motivation needed for spiritual practice.
“Here is the blessing of Terumah: When the heart is wiling and there is a commitment to the work, then the Divine Spirit will show us the pattern, the blueprint, the plan, the inspiration that births beauty into the world. And that beauty is designed to send us back to the Source of inspiration” (Shefa Gold)
We are asked to sanctify the vessel which is our lives, to become empty, making room for the Almighty, blessed be He, to move in. But it is not enough to give Him an empty room. The room must be sparkling clean and incredibly beautiful. We are to build a place that is inviting, a place that will cause the Spirit to be drawn to it.
According to Rashi, the tabernacle was made of thirteen types of materials. Thirteen (13) is the numerical value for the words “echad” (one, unity) and “ahavah” (love).
“The Tabernacle was meant to be the place where love and unity would draw down G-d’s Presence and oneness upon Israel….so that it would suffuse the entire world” (R’ Trugman)
The goal of the building project was to give Hashem a place to dwell within each and every Jew, both individually and collectively, and then ultimately to all mankind through them.
Only heart-felt donations were accepted. Hashem loves a cheerful giver!
“The generous man is blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.” (Mishlei 22:9)
“Even in darkness, light shines for the upright, for [He is] compassionate, merciful, and just. Good is to the man who is compassionate and lends [generously to those in need yet] provides for his own needs with prudence. For never will he falter; he will be remembered as a righteous person forever. He will not fear a bad tiding; his heart is steadfast, trusting in G-d. His heart is steadfast, he does not fear, he will even see [the downfall of] his oppressors. He has dispersed [his wealth], giving to the needy. His righteousness will endure forever [in the World to Come]; his might will be uplifted in honor [in this world].” (Tehillim 112:4-9)
Tzedakah given for acclaim is still tzedakah, but tzedakah given with a desire to hurt others, to provoke envy in others, is not welcomed by Hashem. Giving terumah is all about building a place for Hashem to dwell in this world. And it can only begin from a place of willingness. If one’s heart is not sincere, any building he erects will be built in vain.
“Unless Hashem builds the house, its builders work in vain. Unless Hashem guards a city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” (Tehillim 127:1)
Mitzrayim is a place of constriction, a place of narrow perception. Hashem brought the Israelite’s out for one reason, and one reason only: “TO BE YOUR G-D”. Therefore, He told them how to make themselves into a dwelling place, so ultimately they could bring His Unity and Reality to the entire world. This is the key to freedom! We are to prepare a place for Him to dwell inside us. A holy place that has been pain-painstakingly prepared, with detail paid to each and every minute detail. The true blueprints and specs can only be accessed through the proper source. When a qualified architect completes the blueprints and specs, he will place his stamp upon them, verifying their authenticity. He then, is the only one truly qualified to interpret them. He and the ones he has shared his vision with. There was only one group of people present, and only one group to which these blueprints were entrusted. Many have come after them, claiming to now have possession of the blueprints, but they are fakes. And the proof is in the pudding, as they say. If the house is not a sturdy, beautiful structure, something is amiss.
I pray we can build a structure worthy of His Presence. A beautiful place, that is clean and tidy. May we daily keep our job sites tidied. And like good contractor’s, we must revisit the blueprints regularly throughout the project to make sure we haven’t missed anything important. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the fruits of our labor evolve into a beautiful, solid structure that we have built TOGETHER!
Be blessed and be a blessing,