“Daber el B’nei Yisroel, v’yikchu li terumah.” (Shmos 25:2)
Parshas Terumah begins with a call for individual Jews to step forward and
donate the raw materials – gold, silver, and other items –, which were to
be used in the building of the Mishkan. “Speak to the B’nei Yisroel,” says
Hashem to Moshe, “and they shall set aside terumah for Me”.
Rashi comments that the word ‘li’, which would normally mean ‘TO me’ is
translated as FOR me in this setting. As the Sifsei Chachomim explains,
all items in this world already belong to Hashem. Therefore, the terumah
was not given to Hashem, who already possessed it, but rather was donated
in His honor (lishmi). Rashi offers a similar translation for the word li
later in this parsha (Shmos 25:8) when Hashem informs the B’nei Yisroel
that His Shechinah (Divine Presence) will rest among them once the Mishkan
is completed. “V’asu li Mikdash” is translated that the Jews should build
a Mishkan FOR Hashem; dedicated to His honor.
The Koheles Yitzchos offers an interesting insight regarding the
observation of Rashi that the meaning of the word li translates to lishmi –
FOR my honor. He explains that if an individual gives charity to a poor
person, the recipient of the tzedakah received assistance irrespective of
the donor’s motives in giving the gift. It is therefore possible to donate
to charity without the purest of intentions and nevertheless derive
emotional and spiritual reward for the deed. When one is donating to the
Mishkan, however, Hashem is not in need of the items being given. It is
only the nedivas lev, the willingness to contribute generously that serves
as a nachas ruach to Hashem. Therefore, the pasuk instructs us that when
giving terumah to the Mishkan: li, since it being given to Hashem (who is
not in need of the donations), see to it that your motives are sincere.
Lishmi; give it for His sake, l’shem shamayim.
The word that precedes li, v’yikchu, (Shmos 25:2) requires careful study
as well. We would normally translate the word to mean TAKE. Wouldn’t the
word v’yitnu, and they should GIVE, be more appropriate? The pasuk would
then read “v’yitnu li terumah, and they should give terumah to Me.” After
all, the donor is giving the gift, not taking it.
Rashi seems to address this issue when he translates the word terumah as a
portion that one sets aside (alternatively, terumah could mean ‘to lift’).
According to this interpretation, the donor sets aside his gift, and only
then presents it to the Mishkan. The Torah instructs us to lend
significance to our donation by setting it aside for the purpose of the
Mishkan. (The Torah may also be suggesting to us that setting aside a
portion of our income for tzedakah purposes will make it easier for us to
make the donation at a later time.)
Several years ago, I received a phone call from a young man who was a
talmid of mine when he was in the eighth grade. He had recently married
and secured an excellent job in a large N.Y.C. bank. He related to me that
as he was preparing to leave his office that day, he was reminded of a
mashul (parable) that I had related to him and his classmates more than a
decade ago. The theme of the mashul was about the fact that during our
years on Earth, we are custodians of the money that Hashem grants us; and
as such, we need to share what we have with others. He told me, “Rebbi, I
come to the bank each morning and conduct transactions with hundreds of
million of dollars of bank funds. Then, I reconcile my accounts and go
home with the few dollars and credit cards that I have in my wallet.” My
talmid mentioned that he thought that this was a powerful metaphor for
life, where we transact our business, lead our lives, and leave all of our
monetary possessions behind when we depart this world.
Parshas Terumah instructs us to set aside a portion of our money (and
time, as we see from all those who donated their talents to benefit the
Mishkan) and use it for the service of Hashem and to help those in need.
When giving charity becomes part of our daily life, we are not merely
giving; we are enriching all aspects of our lives.
This may be another reason for the use of the word ‘v’yikchu’ (Shmos
25:2). When giving to the Mishkan (or other tzedakah), the donor is
receiving a mitzvah and the gift of spiritual elevation – adding value and
meaning to his or her life.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.