Voluntary and Obligatory Service by Levi Langer (‘21)


Donations to the construction of the Mishkan in Parashat Terumah, the portions Kohanim receive from Korban Shelamim mentioned in Parashat Tetzaveh, and the Machatzit HaShekel (half Shekel given to Moshe as a head tax) in Parashat Ki Tisa, are each referred to as a “Terumah” from the root H.R.Y.M. (to raise). In “Yad Rama” (Kol Torah, Vol. 28, 5779/2019, Parashat BeShalach), I posited that HaRamat Yad, raising the hand (from the same root), symbolizes a demonstration of Bitachon that Hashem is in one’s midst.

The same is true of these three Terumot. The Mishkan manifests Hashem’s presence at the center of Am Yisrael: “VeAsu Li Mikdash VeShachanti BeTocham”, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (Shemot 25:8). When the Kohanim consume their slices of Shelamim, the owner receives Kaparah (i.e. distance between him and HaKadosh Baruch Hu is erased). Furthermore, the Machatzit HaShekel provides Kaparah for those who pay it, granting such a person a greater experience of God’s presence: “VeNatenu Ish Kofer Nafsho LaHashem”, “Let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul” (Shemot 30:12).

However, two of these demonstrations that Hashem is in one’s midst fundamentally differ from the third. Donations to the Mishkan’s construction and Shelamim -- except for Shalmei Chagigah, which are offered on each Regel -- are voluntary, whereas payment of the Machatzit HaShekel for Bedek HaBayit (maintenance of the Mishkan) is obligatory. The Torah emphasizes the voluntary nature of donating to the Mishkan: “Mei’Eit Kol Ish Asher Yidvenu Libo Tikchu Et Terumati”, “From every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering” (Shemot 25:2). The Mishkan is a response to the Eigel HaZahav. Hashem tried fully compulsory service at Ma’amad Har Sinai: “Shachefah HaKadosh Baruch Hu Aleihem Et HaHar KeGigit”, “HaKadosh Baruch Hu overturned the mountain on them like a cask” (Shabbat 88a). However, Bnei Yisrael still doubted that Moshe would descend Har Sinai and that Hashem was in their midst. Obligatory service proved to be only half the Shekel; it was only one side of the coin. We needed Hashem to introduce voluntary service.

Both obligatory and voluntary Avodah are Terumot and are necessary to experience Hashem’s closeness. Without the Machatzit HaShekel for Bedek HaBayit, the voluntary Mishkan would degrade into a slum, and without a Mishkan, there is no use in collecting the Machatzit HaShekel. Furthermore, by offering the obligatory Korban Tamid during the Miluim (inauguration), and by describing its procedures immediately after those of the Miluim, the Torah demonstrates that we can concurrently serve Hashem voluntarily and obligatorily and that we need not sacrifice one for the other. Hashem provides a mandatory baseline for us, which is crucial to our relationship with Him. However, we must also assume responsibility beyond the letter of the law.

The voluntary gestures (donations and Shelamim) have no set time or measure and are grand, singular, spontaneous experiences, whereas the obligatory Terumot (Machatzit HaShekel and Shalmei Chagigah) are given at regular, predictable intervals in specified amounts. Voluntary service is highly passionate; it is in the spur of the moment. Through such service, one leaps at Hashem eager to be close to Him and forms a new bond in which one is cognizant that He is in his midst. This might be learning during free time or signing up to learn Mishnayot after someone has passed away. But when there is a quota to fill every day or every week, like Daf Yomi or Shnayim Mikra Ve’Echad Targum, it becomes heavy and mundane like an obligation. You already built the Mishkan voluntarily and passionately, your first page of Daf Yomi was months ago, and you already became aware that Hashem is in your midst; now you need half a Shekel for Bedek HaBayit to maintain the intimate relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. You need to recognize that Hashem is close to you. When you recognize that, you will recall what you already know about it; you will be revisiting your attachment to it.

We need both invigorating cognition and steady recognition that Hashem dwells with us to have the healthiest relationship with Him.

Shabbat and the Mikdash by Noam Barenholtz (’21)

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