The Torah section of Terumah discusses the contribution, apportionment and design of the various components of the holy Tabernacle, the Mishkan, which was later to be used in the holy Temple, the bet hamikdash. The section starts (Sh’mot 25:1-2): “And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion; from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion.”
Various commentators have noted the awkward wording in the above verse. It would seem to be a rather round-about way of saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and every man whose heart motivates him shall give a portion”. Moreover, why talk about taking – and even repeating it – when what is actually being discussed is the people’s giving?
In his commentary on the Torah, the great 19th century Torah scholar, R. Meir Leibush, known as the Malbim, notes the aforementioned awkward structure. In explanation, the Malbim points out that, in truth, the Israelites were not providing G-d with anything. The Holy Scriptures tell us (Chagai 2:8), “Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold.” All gold, silver – anything of value – belongs to G-d. G-d has full control and authority over the earth’s riches and material possessions. G-d did not need anyone to give Him anything for the Tabernacle. He could have provided all the materials Himself. Rather, when one’s “heart motivates him” – with no compulsion – to contribute to the raising of G-d’s eminence on this earth by way of his material possessions, then that individual has something that he can truly “take”, something that truly remains with him. By freely parting with his material possessions – rather than hoarding them – for the sake of G-d’s glory, one has taken and absorbed something of true value, the elevation of his soul by way of a lofty undertaking.
In this vein, too, R. Zev Leff explains in his Outlooks & Insights the fault of the tribal heads, nesi’im, alluded to by the verse in Sh’mot 35:27 where a letter of their title is omitted (see Rashi ad locum and Bamidbar Rabbah 12:16). The tribal heads declared that they would wait for everyone else to contribute and then provide what was still needed afterwards. In the end, what was left to contribute were the precious stones of the chosen and ephod, oil and spices for the incense and the menorah. R. Leff asks, “Since they were prepared to contribute whatever was necessary, no matter how great, and did in fact contribute valuable items to the Mishkan, the question remains, however, why were they censured?” In response, R. Leff continues, “The nesi’im misunderstood the purpose of the giving. There was no deficit to be made up…[G-d] has no deficit. The giving was an opportunity for self-development, the purification of one’s soul through attachment to a holy undertaking. Approaching the mitzvah as if G-d needs contributions was ludicrous.”
We learn a similar message from Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud in response to a question posed to him by Turnus Rufus (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 10a). Rabbi Akiva is asked if G-d truly cares for the poor, why does He ask others to assist them rather than provide for them Himself? Rabbi Akiva responds that G-d does so to elevate us. By resisting the tendency to hoard one’s money for oneself, recognizing that there are loftier pursuits to exercise with one’s money than indulging in one’s own physical pleasures, one builds his character and his soul in preparation for the world to come.
When one learns the limitations of this material world and recognizes the boundless role of G-d in its operation, one becomes aware of how actually giving is receiving. By learning to be less attached to possessions found in this material world, one in the end receives so much more in the world to come.