The Mishkan project kicks off this week, with HaShem giving precise instructions on how to construct the Mishkan and its contents. Before this begins, like any good Jewish project there is a call for donations; hence the name of our sedra Terumah (a donation). The unique thing about these donations is that not only is the physical act of donating money prescribed, but also the mental state of the giver is accounted for; the donations are to be given with pristine intentions. Thus, the pasuk stresses that ‘from each man whose heart gives willingly, take my donations;’ ‘me’es kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu es terumasi (25:2).’Similarly, the pasuk in Divrei Hayamim (2; 29:31) says ‘all those who were of nediv lev donated olah sacrifices.’ What does this expression nediv lev mean?

First, an introduction. The words used in a society tend to reflect the values and characteristics of that society. For example, in Arctic social circles there are many words for snow, because snow is an important part of their everyday lives. Similarly, the (former) communist East has many words for shades of red, with relatively few for the colour blue. Whilst in our capitalist West we have many words for blue (dark, light, royal, navy, denim, etc.), but comparatively few for varieties of the colour red. In Judaism there are also many examples of this principle, but the one appropriate for our topic is the fact that there are various words for giving. The words neder, terumah, doron, nedavah, and mattanah are all synonyms for a gift, and so underline the central role of the attribute of giving in Judaism. That is the popular vort. But I think that this can be deepened somewhat. There is no magic rule that a society which values a certain concept will have many words for that concept. The real depth of the idea is that the fact that a certain concept is important in a society means that there is a precise definition of what this concept is, and other things are varieties of this concept and are not necessarily the genuine article/they have other uses. This sounds rather abstract, so an example should make things clearer.

The reason there are so many words for snow in Arctic social circles is that since snow is important there for everyday living, one needs to know what is the best snow to use and which types of snow can be used for which things. Thus, there is a need to differentiate between different types of snow; hence the different words for different varieties of that which we lump together under the one word ‘snow.’ The idea is that the more important a thing is, the more one must distinguish what passes for being part of this thing, and what does not. For example, to mere commoners like myself, all red wine tastes pretty much the same. But a specialist wine taster can distinguish easily between many types of wine. And whilst I would club many types of wine together, the specialist taster would see different wines as having a world of difference between them. The fact that the specialist sees wine as important in his life means that he learns to distinguish between different types of that concept.

The same goes for editors; whilst to me, this dvar Torah is written ok, a professional editor would cover it with red markings, for they is (!) more specialised, and can thus distinguish between several qualities of articles, etc. This works for non-professionals too; an experienced fizzy-drink ‘connoisseur’ (i.e an American!) would probably be able to tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, and yeshiva boys could talk for a while about the different types of pencils and led thickness, for they are accustomed to such things, and they realise that each variety of the object (a pencil) is different. Coming back to our subject, the same goes for the variety of words used for the concept of giving. Because Judaism specialises in the trait of giving, we have different words to distinguish different types of giving. These different words primarily focus upon the mindset of the giver, for after all, there is a world of difference between someone who gives begrudgingly (and makes the receiver know so) and someone who gives willingly.

Thus, Tosafos[1] makes the following distinction between the terms neder and nedavah: ‘the word neder implies that which someone donates out of fear of (Divine) punishment and their sins…nedavah implies [a gift] out of love, as it says ‘ohaveim nedavah’ (I will love them gratuitously; Hoshea 14:5).’ A similar distinction is made by the Ran[2] in noting that ‘a neder means something that has not come fully from the heart, whilst a nedavah means that which a person donates with a greater degree of willingness, and his deeds are more praiseworthy.’ These words and distinctions help isolate which acts of giving are genuine and which are less so. This is what the pasuk means when it uses the term nediv lev. HaShem is calling for the donations to the Mishkan to be given with pristine intentions and a genuine want to give for this cause; HaShem wants donations of nediv lev. It is worth focussing on this point somewhat. Nowadays, if someone is collecting money for a cause, they are not too bothered about what the intentions of the giver are; as long as the money is given at the end of the day.[3] But when HaShem orders donations for the Mishkan project, He wants specifically good intentions as well as the money. Why? Because the very act of donating for this holy cause uplifts the giver. HaShem says (25:8) ‘and you shall build for me a Mishkan and I shall dwell within them;’ the building of the Mishkan increased each person’s attachment to and relationship with HaShem, so to speak. There are two components to each act; the physical act and the mindset that goes with it. The idea is that it is ‘a whole new mitzvah’ of giving when the mindset is one of genuineness and happiness at the opportunity to give. There is one last question to ask, however. If, as we explained, the operative word for the Mishkan donations is nediv lev/nedava, why does the Torah also call these donations terumah; what does this name denote? One answer can be ventured via the opinion of Rashi, Ran, Rosh, and Tosafos,[4] who all say that Terumah (i.e. the gift of produce that is to be given to the Kohen) exists in one’s field even before it is designated by the field owner. HaShem considers the produce of the field as a mixture of Terumah and chullin (non-Terumah), and when the field’s owner then sets a certain amount of produce aside as Terumah to be given to the Kohen, that is a way of ‘separating the mixture’ and defining where the kedushas Terumah resides. The point is that the Kohen’s Terumah exists in the field well before it is actually declared to be Terumah by the owner of the field. So too in our sedra, HaShem calls the donations a Terumah, because the money which is in our hands already belongs to HaShem even before we designate it to be given to the cause of the Mishkan; our job is just to give it with good intentions. This, as the Ikkar Sifsei Chachamim points out,[5] is the added stress in the command that ‘you shall take for Me a Terumah (25:2)’ – the point is that it is to be given in my Name/honour; it is not the money that HaShem wanted here, because the world and its riches belongs to Him anyway, but the pristine intentions that come with the giving. It reminds me of a tale of a certain Shul that needed money for a new building project. After one of the services, the Gabbai stood up and announced the project, saying that there is good news and bad news. ‘The good news is that we have the money for the project already.’ He continued ‘The bad news is that the money is currently in your pockets.’ The point is to realise that other than the act of giving, there is a thought component/mindset which sets apart acts of giving from each other, to the extent that the Torah awards these different mindsets different words for giving. Practically, an aspect of this is to give tzedaka with a smile, or perhaps offer the collector something to drink, etc. He does not want to be the subject of rudeness, just as we do not want to be either. Have a great Shabbes!!!!!! (If anyone wants to receive my weekly dvar torah, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

[1] Tosafos Nedarim 10a ‘denezirus’

[2] Ran Nedarim 9a ‘kenidvosam’

[3] I do know of a certain Rosh Yeshiva who refused a large donation for a new Yeshiva building because he felt that the offer was coming purely from the haughtiness of the donor, as opposed to being for the good intentions of the study of Torah.

[4] Ran Nedarim 84b ‘kasavar,’ Periush HaRosh Nedarim 12a ‘kechallas,’ Tosafos Nedarim 12a ‘kechalas,’ Rashi Sanhedrin 83a ‘Terumah’. Tosafos Yevamos 86a ‘Mah’ disagrees

[5] The opening Ikkar Sifsei Chachamim on the sedra; on the first Rashi of the sedra

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