Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
It's the Thought That Counts
Parshas Terumah begins with the request for contributions for the
Mishkan/Tabernacle. "Hashem (G-d) spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to the
Children of Israel and let them take for Me a contribution; from every
man whose heart inspires him you shall take My contribution.'"
Mefarshim (commentators) are bothered by numerous problems in
this passage: Why does the Torah insist on taking the contribution,
"from every man whose heart inspires him?" Were the contributions
of those with "uninspired hearts" refused? And would it not have been
more grammatically correct to conclude, "you shall take their
contribution," instead of, "My contribution?"
Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe v. 1 p. 56) quotes the Gemara in
Berachos (35a): "It is written (Tehillim/Psalms 24:1), 'To Hashem
[belongs] the earth and its fullness.' Yet it is also written (Tehillim
115:16), 'The earth He has given to the sons of man.'" [These
pesukim (verses) are seemingly incompatible: To whom does the
earth "belong"; to Hashem or to man?] The Gemara answers that in
fact the earth, and everything upon it is Hashem's, but when we
make a beracha (blessing) on our food, it becomes "ours," in that we
now have permission to use it.
Indeed, says the Chasam Sofer, everything - even our very selves -
ultimately belong to Hashem. At best, what we have is on temporary
loan. So what, in fact, can we "give" to Hashem. How is it possible to
speak of a "contribution" if all we are doing in reality is giving
Hashem what is already His? Can a son give his father his own
money as a present?
When we give a gift to Hashem, so to speak, it is not the actual gift
that is of any importance. Hashem, if He so desired, could easily
create a Mishkan without our help. What we "give" Hashem is the
generosity of our hearts, and the purity of our thoughts. It is not what
we give, but how we give it. The age-old adage, "it's the thought that
counts," takes on new meaning.
This is why the pasuk stresses, "from every man whose heart inspires
him you shall take My contribution." Yes, money and goods were
collected from one and all. But the only true contributors were those
who gave with love and inspiration. Those who contributed
begrudgingly in actuality gave nothing at all - other than the returning
of possessions to their rightful owner. The only real contribution was
the nedivus ha-lev of the generous-of-spirit. They understood that the
actual donation was already, "My (i.e. Hashem's) contribution." But
they could still "give" their pure and holy thoughts and emotions.
This, explains Chasam Sofer, is why Hashem, "Showed Moshe a
coin-of-fire, and said, 'They should give a coin like this,' (Midrash
Tanchuma 9; Rashi, Ki Sisa 30:13)." When a Jew gives a donation
to Hashem, it should be like the "coin-of-fire," burning with desire and
nobility of spirit.
I have one difficulty with this. There is a remarkable Midrash (Shemos
Rabbah 33:8) which questions the wording of the above pasuk,
"From each man whose heart inspires him to give." Why was it
necessary for the Torah to stress, "From each man?"
It teaches us, answers the Midrash, "That each-and-every Jew could
have [on his own] provided for the entire Mishkan." The Midrash
explains that the Jews of the desert had no shortage of riches, either
from the "spoil of Mitzrayim (Egypt)" [Mechilta], or from the "gems
and pearls" that would fall with the man (manna) each day [Shemos
Rabbah ibid.]. Now if, in theory, each Jew could have provided for
the Mishkan on his own - yet no one did so - where is the great
generosity of spirit and nedivus ha-lev of which we speak? Why was
there not even one Jew who was so moved and inspired as to offer
to construct the entire Mishkan at his expense?
Perhaps, though, this question is rooted in a fundamental
misunderstanding of the concept of generosity and goodwill. Is it
generous to want to give the whole thing oneself, or is it greedy?
Be'er Moshe (p. 756) quotes the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:13):
"There are four types of donors to tzedakah (charity): One who
wishes to give himself, but doesn't want others to give - he begrudges
others... [But one who wishes] to give [himself], and that others give
as well - he is a chassid (pious individual)."
If the purpose of giving charity was the gift, and if one's money and
possessions were truly his own, then it would be a noble deed to "foot
the bill" all on one's own, and save others the expense. But if the
purpose of giving is the "inspired heart" that accompanies the
donation, then giving itself becomes an exercise in character
refinement and self-improvement. To monopolize the mitzvah would
be to deprive others of the opportunity to recognize and proclaim
their faith in Hashem's dominion, and to inspire and ignite their
hearts as well. What at first appears to be the ultimate in
magnanimousness, is in fact the ultimate in greed.
>From each man - yes, each and every Jew, could have, and would
gladly have, donated the entire Mishkan. But they realized that there
is far greater purpose here than just the donation. "From each man
whose heart inspires him you shall take My contribution." Instead of
doing it on their own, they worked together, each man encouraging
and inspiring his neighbour to give as well: a multitude of inspiration.
When the opportunity to perform a mitzvah arises, we must seek to
share that opportunity with others, and not keep it all to ourselves. If
our goal is truly to give nachas ruach (pleasure) to Hashem, and not
just to feel smug for having done a "complete mitzvah," then, as they
say, the more the merrier.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.