Parshas Terumah; Give and Take

It might have occured that you ask a favour from a friend and describe exactly the way you want it to be done; at such and such a time of day, using such and such things, involving so and so, etc. In fact, you describe what is to be done so particularly and in such detail (all of it important, of course), asking your friend not to omit any small detail from your precise instructions, that the almost inevitable response given is ‘if it’s so vital and complicated, why don’t you do it.’ The parallel to our sedra is striking: HaShem commands us to build for Him a mishkan and describes exactly and precisely (all but the first of our sedra’s 96 psukim comprise HaShem’s instructions to Moshe regarding the building of the mishkan and its contents) how it and its contents are to be made, and that the construction is to accord exactly to that which Moshe was shown on Mount Sinai (25;9, 25;40). Why did HaShem not build the mishkan Himself if it was such a delicate job; after all it is ‘His Home,’ so to speak? And if you think that this is a ‘crazy,’ unfounded idea, it is worth noting that both Rashi and Tosfos (gemarra sukkah 41a) are of the opinion that the third Beis Hamikdash will indeed be built and brought down from Heaven by HaShem Himself. So why leave it to us to build the mishkan? In order to tackle this, let’s start with another question…

The second pasuk of our sedra relates HaShem’s instructions to Moshe; ‘speak to the Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to/for Me a donation…’ Why is the word ‘take’ used; would it not be more appropriate to say ‘and they shall give to Me a donation…?’

There are several answers given to this question. The Ibn Ezra comments that the words ‘take to’ (veyickhu l’) in the Torah mean to give. The Sforno answers that this is an instruction to the money collectors (gabbaim) to solicit and collect donations from the nation. But we shall focus on another answer. Another answer given (I don’t know its source) is that giving and taking are parallel - when one gives to someone, they are really benefiting and taking for themselves. Let’s expand upon this point…

One of the vessels in the mishkan is the menorah. The question is asked; why does HaShem require a menorah. After all, He lit the way for us in the desert for forty years, so why need a menorah to light up His Mishkan? The Midrash Rabbah answers that this is precisely the point; HaShem wanted to give us the opportunity to pay Him back for his chesed to us in lighting our homes for forty years, by us lighting His Home through the menorah. But is this really an adequate repayment; apart from the fact that HaShem lit up our way for longer then we lit the menorah, HaShem lit up the way when we could not light the way ourselves, but when we light the menorah in His House, He can illuminate it Himself - and unlike us, HaShem does not need the light to see? And besides, at the end of the day, HaShem does not need us to light His House; why use us? The answer is a central point - that hakaras hatov (gratitude) and chesed are not centred around the receiver of the kindness, but are rather character traits that should be built up and living inside of us, regardless of Who the receiver is and whether they need your chesed. In short, they reside in the giver, and are not necessarily dependent upon what the receiver gets. Thus, HaShem gives us the opportunity to ‘pay Him back’ with our lighting of the menorah in His mishkan, not because He needs the light, but as a kindness to us in our being able to perfect ourselves by seemingly ‘giving’ to HaShem. The mere act of giving/kindness/gratitude, improves our characters. In the words of the Rambam (hil. Temurah 4;13), ‘the majority of the laws of the Torah are deep and great processes to fix up one’s character and straighten all one’s deeds.’

This idea can be seen relatively clearly in another place in the Torah. Of the ten plagues in Egypt, the first three plagues were actually performed via Aharon, and not Moshe. This is because, as Rashi points out (7;19 & 8;12) the plagues of blood and frogs called for the hitting of the Nile river to initiate the plague, and the plague of lice required hitting the dust of the earth. Now since Moshe was saved by the Nile when cast into it in his cradle as a baby, and he also benefited from use of the earth dust in burying the Egyptian officer he killed, he was to have hakaras hatov to the Nile and the dust, and so it was to be Aharon who struck them, and not Moshe. Why does Moshe need to have gratitude to inanimate objects like a river or dust; they have no feelings nor appreciation of kindliness?

The answer is that, as we explained above, gratitude and chesed are not based purely on what the receiver will get from your act; they are a character trait to be acquired and perfected in and of themselves. Thus, Moshe was to have the quality of hakaras hatov so ingrained into his personality that it even expressed itself towards inanimate objects.

A similar account is told about the Rif (Rav Yitzchak Alfasi, eleventh century leading Rabbi of Spain) refusing to sanction the sale/destruction of a bathhouse of which he had personally derived benefit out of gratitude to the bathhouse (shitah mekubetzes, bava metziah). Again, the same explanation is applicable; that of the trait of gratitude being so ingrained into his personality that it naturally expressed itself, even regarding inanimate objects.

This is the meaning of the Torah expressing the command to give donations via the words ‘they shall take,’ for far more than the receiver receives does the giver gain from his action of giving, for it makes the giver a better person. The Rambam (Avos 3;15) finds a practical expression for this concept; he explains the mishna’s words ‘all is judged according to the majority of deeds’ that the way to acquire a positive trait is not with one great act, but with a great number of acts (‘the number of deeds,’ in the words of the mishna) . Thus, he says, the way to acquire the quality of generosity is not to give one single donation of one thousand gold pieces to charity, but to undertake one thousand separate acts of giving one gold piece each time - this way the trait will be ingrained into one’s personality strongly. For the very act of kindness improves oneself and one gains as a result; consequently the more time that act is repeated, the more one will gain a hold on this character trait.

Perhaps this enables us to answer our original question; as to why we, and not HaShem, are to build His mishkan. In truth, whether the mishkan was as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf, or whether it was a means to store and preserve the kedusha and inspiration of the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, it is logical that we are the ones who must build it. If the mishkan is an atonement, then we, who sinned, must do the action of atonement. And presumably the same would be true if the mishkan was to preserve and continue the revelation of mattan torah; that we should be the ones find a home to preserve that kedusha. But perhaps another facet can be included in these points, in the same vein as that which we explained above. HaShem commands (25;8) ‘they (the Bnei Yisrael) should build for me a mikdash and I shall dwell in them.’ But if the mishkan is the subject of the pasuk, why does the pasuk not say ‘they should build for me a mikdash and I shall dwell in it; what’s the ‘them’ here? The answer is that HaShem is telling us that the very action of us coming together and giving donations to build a mishkan in and of itself causes HaShem to increase His Presence and dwell amongst them, I.e. the Bnei Yisrael; for the very act of giving and uniting has that power. And this is another aspect as to why we are to be the ones to build the mishkan; because the very act of our building/donating improves and perfects us.

Have a great Shabbes,

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