Taking by Giving by Aaron Haber


Parashat Terumah centers about the construction of the Mishkan by the Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar after leaving Egypt. Hashem instructs Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael to donate all of the raw materials for the building of the Mishkan, and the people do so enthusiastically. In fact, the response is so enthusiastic and arguably the most successful Jewish fundraiser ever that Moshe subsequently announces that the donations will be discontinued because of the overabundance.

The Beit HaLevi (Shemot 25:2, s.v. Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael VeYikchu Li Terumah...) notes that Parashat Terumah is placed out of order with the actual chronological events of Sefer Shemot. This is in part so that it would be juxtaposed with the previous week’s Parashah, Parashat Mishpatim, which deals with civil law and justice. The Beit HaLevi writes that the reason for this juxtaposition is that before a person begins to be generous with his money, he must first act in accordance with the standards established in Parashat Mishpatim. That is, Hashem does not view illegitimate charity favorably and He does not consider such actions to be “performance of good.” The Beit HaLevi compares this to a case discussed in the Gemara (Sukkah 30a) regarding a person who steals any or all of the Arba Minim of Succot in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of Netilat Lulav. The Gemara learns that even in the best of circumstances, the Mitzvah with the stolen Lulav is considered as if the Mitzvah has not been performed at all. If a “good” act is done through sinfulness it is no longer considered good. This is why it is stated in Sefer Yeshayahu (56:1), “Shimru Mishpat VaAsu Tzeddakah Ki Kerovah Yeshu’ati Lavo,” “Guard justice and perform charitable acts for My help is close in coming.”

The manner with which Moshe is instructed to command the Bnei Yisrael to donate for the Mishkan seems somewhat unusual. Hashem states, “VeYikchu Li Terumah,” “They shall take (for) Me a donation” (Shemot 25:2), rather than a seemingly more straightforward command such as, for example, “they will give Me a donation.” Regarding this the Medrash explains that one of the deeper meanings of these words is that Hashem is exhorting us to not only give money, but to “take Him” as well. The Midrash writes as if quoting Hashem, “You have taken My Torah and My laws of justice (with Parashat Mishpatim). Take Me along with them!” How do we understand Hashem wanting us to take Him along?

The Beit HaLevi explains as follows. Understanding the truth in Torah and rendering correct legal decisions are two traits that are impossible to attain without Hashem’s help. This is why the Gemara states (Sanhedrin 22a), “whoever learns Torah, Hashem learns opposite him.” We need Hashem’s help to come to the truth, and an integral piece of the process requires that we seek His aid. And, justice is an area that requires Hashem’s assistance as well. Shlomo HaMelech at the onset of his career prays to Hashem, “VeNatatah LeAvdechah Leiv Shomei’ah LiShpot Et Amchah LeHavin Bein Tov LeRa,” “and give your servant a heart to judge your people, and discern good from evil” (Melachim Alef 3:9). Similarly, the verse in Tehilim states (82:1), “BeKerev Elokim Yishpot,” “[Hashem] stands in the council of judges.” Hashem involves Himself in helping us come to clarity of the truth, and we need His help in doing so. This is exactly how we “take” Hashem together with the laws elucidated in Mishpatim.

If we learn Torah without the proper seriousness and intellectual honesty, we will not come to understand the true intentions of the Torah. Such people will only come to incorrect conclusions about what Hashem expects from them. However, if we truly accept Hashem and His Torah into our lives and internalize the messages therein, then there are no bounds to what we can accomplish.

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