Terumah; the thought that counts: One theme that crops up in this week's parsha is that of thoughts/ intentions. Let’s explain...

This parsha is the first of the 'mishkan' sedras in which the mishkan and its items are described. It starts off (as does any good Jewish project!) with the calling (by HaShem) for donations to the mishkan fund. But this calling for donations has an interesting uniqueness; it is stressed time and time again that these donations are to be given with good intentions. For example, the first Rashi in the sedra says that the donations are to be given ‘for my (HaShem’s) Name,’ and Rashi 25;8 echoes this. In fact, the pasuk itself [25;2] stresses 'one who’s heart offers,' implying a certain degree of good intention which shall go with the physical act of donating; the donation is to come from the heart. One can also point out that pasuk 2 says does not say 'speak to bnei yisrael and tell them to take terumah (give a donation),’ but rather “speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take terumah” - omitting the command to relate the order to donate to Bnei Yisrael, as if saying not to give merely because of a commandment to give, but because they want to give. And the pasuk continues 'from everyone whose heart wants.'

It is interesting to note that of all events, the building of the mishkan is the one to stress intentions of the givers. One might have thought that once the mishkan is built, the intentions of the donors will become increasingly less important and ultimately fade into history; HaShem after all will rest His Shechina there. But this is exactly the point to stress intentions; if HaShem is going to rest His Shechina there, the whole setup from the start must be done with sanctity; the intentions even of the donators must be correct. And nobody here knows what one's intention is (only HaShem does) - all they see is someone giving; it is up to us to ensure the intention is correct. Thus, the theme of the primacy of thoughts and intentions as opposed to just actions is developed. Let’s expand on this theme to bring out the point of the centrality of thought in mitzvos…

There can be two people doing exactly the same action but their thoughts will dictate the righteousness of this action. At the extreme end of this we have example of 'doing a sin for the correct intentions' which the gemara says is better than a mitzvah for the wrong intentions. (these are very specific cases not to be tried at home!). And continuing on the negative applications, we see that the feeling of remorse and regret for having done a mitzvah completely wipes that mitzvah off your account (Rambam hil. teshuva 3;3). So too do we find that Teshuva takes on two very different levels depending upon the intentions one has. Teshuva done from fear of punishment (mi’yirah) has the power to turn wilful sins done on purpose into sins done unintentionally, whilst Teshuva done with no ulterior reason other than doing that which is correct for the sake of truth (me’ahava) has more power; it can turn wilful sins into merits. Again, the point is that though the action of Teshuva is the same in both instances [confession, expressing regret, and promising never to repeat the sin,] the entire consequences of the Teshuva change according to one’s different mindsets/intentions.

The Chofetz Chaim expressed a similar idea in explaining that the main mitzvos which will accompany us to the next world are those done lishmah, I.e. done with pure intentions. Mitzvos done with ulterior motives, though also valuable, do not match up to those done with pure and selfless intentions. And certainly those mitzvos done by rote, via routine with no thought whatsoever, do not reach the levels of any of the two types of mitzvos above. Again, the point is the primacy of thought in a mitzvah, and not just a focus entirely on action. In fact, it is this concept which is the base for the halacha called machshava ke’maaseh (lit. ‘thought is like action.’) This means that if one genuinely wants and plans to do a mitzvah but circumstances prevent one from carrying out this plan, one is given reward as if (s)he actually did perform the mitzvah. Again, this underlines the centrality of thought in that it alone can create reward for a mitzvah even if no action is done.

[This message is not so easy to digest in an action-centred world; we are taught that ‘the camera never lies,’ when in reality the camera is the worst liar, for it can only convey actions but not the intentions and thoughts that pervade such an action and indeed define it. And it is very hard for us to recognise the centrality of thoughts/intentions, when these are things that cannot be seen nor necessarily detected - and after all, it is much easier to define people by what they do]

This can also provide the answer to a question about the order of the parsha: It starts off with (25; 1-7) calls for donations, then (7) 'build a mikdash that I will dwell in,' followed by building the aron (25; 10-23) shulchan (25; 23-30), menorah (25; 31-38), and then general info about the physical structure of the mishkan (26). Why does it start by saying build a mishkan, then skip to the contents of the mishkan, only to then revert back to the mishkan itself again? The answer according to what we have said above slips in rather well; because both when donating to the mishkan and building its vessels and contents there must be correct intentions - and that will be guaranteed when the overall goal is kept in mind - 'make for me a mikdash that I may dwell in' (25;7). Thus, each step of the mishkan (donations and building of its contents/vessels) are followed by the overall aim of the project; to show that they had this in mind and had honest, pure intentions as a result. Lastly, this theme of thought in mitzvos is embedded in the halacha that ‘mitzvos tzrichos kavana’ (shulchan aruch orach chaim 60;4) - that when one performs a mitzvah one should have in mind that they are fulfilling a mitzvah. And some mitzvos even require an extra awareness of the goal of the mitzvah too (eg tzitzis = to remember the mitzvos, sukkah = to remember HaShem’s clouds of glory which protected us in the desert, Tefillin = for Torah and to subjugate ourselves to HaShem.] Again, the point is that not only is action important in doing a mitzvah, but it’s the thought that counts too, Have great Shabbes,

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