February 14, 2013
Terumah: “Take for Me an Offering”
In preparation for constructing the Tabernacle, God commanded Moses to collect the necessary materials from the people:
“Speak to the Israelites and have them take for Me an offering. From every person whose heart inspires him to donate, you shall take My offering.” (Ex. 25:2)
Why did God command Moses to take the donations? The verse should read that they should give an offering!
This language of ‘taking’ might lead one to conclude that the materials were taken forcibly from the people. But this cannot be, for the Torah stresses that the offerings were donated freely — ‘from every person whose heart inspires him to donate.’
Why, in fact, did this collection need to be voluntary? The Talmud in Baba Batra 8b teaches that the community may force members to support the needy. Using our money to help others is a trait that needs to be trained and developed. Why did God command that these gifts for the Tabernacle, the first act of tzedakah (charity) on a national level, be donated solely out of sincere generosity?
Two Purposes to Tzedakah
The mitzvah of tzedakah is meant to accomplish two objectives. The first concerns the one receiving. Through this mitzvah, we assist the poor and help provide what they are lacking. The second aim concerns the one giving. By donating our time and money, we express in the world of action our inner qualities of chesed and kindness. The act of tzedakah actualizes our feelings of generosity, and contributes towards our own spiritual growth.
We can distinguish between these two objectives within the act itself. The first goal stresses the aspect of giving to the needy. The important factor here is that the poor person receives the assistance needed. The second goal, on the other hand, stresses the aspect of taking from the benefactor. This is a special benefit of the mitzvah of tzedakah. By relinquishing our material possessions for the sake of others, we refine and elevate the soul.
Which of these two goals is the principle objective of tzedakah?
The Chase of the Gimmel
The Sages in Shabbat 104a noted that the letter gimmel appears to have a ‘leg’ stretched out in the direction of the following letter, the dalet. Why is that? The gimmel is the benefactor (from the word gommeil, meaning one who gives or supports). Inherently, the gimmel chases after the impoverished dalet (from the word dal, meaning ‘poor’ or ‘needy’) in order to help him.
Why is the benefactor running after the poor? Should it not be the other way around? The Sages wanted to teach us that the principle aim of tzedakah is based on the very foundations of the universe. The true goal of tzedakah is to elevate the soul of the giver. After all, if the purpose was to help the poor, God could have provided other means for their support without having to rely on the generosity of people. The shape and order of the letters — letters by which God created the universe — hint at this fundamental truth. The gimmels, the benefactors, need to pursue the dalets, the poor, in order to attain their spiritual completion.
Therefore the first charitable act of the Jewish people emphasized that the central aspect of tzedakah is not giving to the needy, but taking from the donor. “Have them take for Me an offering.” God commanded that the contributions to the Tabernacle be given freely — ‘every person whose heart inspires him to donate’ – since the soul is only properly perfected when one donates willingly.
(Adapted from Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 189-190)