Terumah: Giving is Receiving

Our Personal Temple

How can God both order the people to bring gifts, and request that those gifts come voluntarily?

Table for Five: Terumah

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

Ex 25:2

Rabbi Chaim Miller, Author, Gutnick Chumash and Practical Tanya

Hasidism, which emerged in the eighteenth century, represented a “psychological turn” in textual interpretation. The Hasidic masters reread every line of the Torah as an exercise in self-awareness. Remarkably, this project predated Freud and Jung by over a century. (Jung remarked on his eightieth birthday, “Do you know who anticipated my entire psychology in the eighteenth century? The Hasidic Rabbi Baer from Mezritch.”) In our verse, we read of the “crowdfunding” efforts to collect donations for the construction of the Tabernacle. What does this symbolize in terms of our inner work?

The Hasidic masters taught that the Tabernacle symbolizes the human body, which is a personal “Temple” where the Divine presence may rest. We “donate” to the personal Temple by taking good care of our bodies. Our verse teaches that these “donations” ought to be done lovingly, when our “heart is so moved.”

In our busy lives, it is so easy to “toss” the body its needs without care. We eat junk, we deprive ourselves of sleep, we look in the mirror and stare at our bodies with contempt.

Says the Torah: Your body is a Temple to the Divine! Look after it with love because it is a sacred location in the universe where G-d desires to be present.

Sarah Pachter, Author and Speaker

Why would the pasuk use the word vayikach, “take” when referring to giving?

“Vayikach” is used because when a person gives, they are really receiving. The word “natan,” to give, is a palindrome because when you give, it bounces right back to you.

In the physical world, it doesn’t seem to work this way. If there are eight pizza slices and someone takes six, there will only be two left.

The spiritual world functions like the flame of a candle. When one candle gives of its flame, the light multiplies. In the physical world when one gives, you no longer have, but in the spiritual world, when you give, you gain.

As part of a happiness experiment, this past month I gave charity to anyone who asked (even via email!) It was one of the most joyous and empowering months I have ever felt. Giving is hard, but we reach inner depths that are unmatched.

Halachically, it is better to give one dollar on ten different occasions rather than a ten dollar bill once. Frequent giving trains our hearts and minds to become natural givers.

There were three opportunities with regards to giving for the tabernacle. The first two were a tax, but this pasuk refers to a volunteer donation. After giving twice prior, our hearts were moved and we gave so much that Moshe turned away donations. Our actions can shape our hearts desire.

Rabbi Brett Kopin, Milken Community School

“Bring Me gifts,” God says, “from every person whose heart is so moved.” God then specifies all the materials needed to construct the Tabernacle, initiating a complex nationwide project that fills the second half of Exodus. If done successfully, the miraculous will become a part of the everyday: God’s presence will dwell among the people. They will only need to look toward the Mishkan at the center of the camp to be reminded of the central goal of Judaism: to bridge Heaven and Earth.

But how can God both order the people to bring gifts, and request that those gifts come voluntarily? Surely if the people’s hearts were moved, they would have brought gifts out of their own free will. Perhaps this opening verse of Terumah is aspirational: God’s hope for us is that our will ultimately aligns with God’s will. God’s insistence on the human construction of the Mishkan is rooted in the desire for the people to want to bring the gifts themselves, to want to construct holy spaces, and to want to bridge Heaven and Earth, without needing to be prompted. As we move through the second half of Exodus, filled with all the minutia of this holy construction, may these words remind us that building holy space does not come easily. It requires effort, creativity and a shared desire from God and people to bring it about. Ultimately, it requires inspiration from God, coupled with the generosity of the human spirit.

Liane Pritikin, Writer, Public Speaker, Marketing Executive

Growing up, my mom celebrated family birthdays with her famous chocolate strawberry banana cake. I must have talked about this cake a lot, because my college roommate surprised me with it for my 21st birthday. Years later, when living in Orlando working at Disney World, a good friend surprised me with – you guessed it – the chocolate strawberry banana cake! Two friends, worlds apart. Whose hearts moved them to call my mom and bake my favorite birthday cake and give me a little piece of home.

In the opening of Parshas Terumah, G-d tells the Jewish people what He would like for His home. But only if we want to give. Only if we’re willing and excited. Only if our heart is so moved. Which is why parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, anyone with a child in their life who makes them a picture displays it proudly. Is it Louvre Museum worthy? No. But it’s a gift from the heart.

In English, G-d says “bring me gifts.” But a more literal translation of the Hebrew is “take gifts for me.” Is G-d asking us to give or take?

In any relationship, we’re always taking a little part of ourselves – our time, energy, money, resources – and getting something more valuable in return. For some, this exchange is transactional. For others, it’s on a higher level – but only when your heart moves you. That’s what G-d wants from us. Not a transaction, but a relationship. And true heart-felt gifts for His home.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, Director of Education, Open Temple

In her book, The Path Made Clear, Oprah Winfrey recounts a conversation with a grieving mother who told the story of her adult son’s death after a long illness. In his last moments, she embraced her son, and he whispered to her, “Oh, Mom, it is all so simple,” and then he closed his eyes and died.

Indeed, perhaps life is simpler than we make it out to be. Oprah wrote: “When you become blind sighted by the status symbols, it’s easy to lose sight of the unique gifts only you can give the world. What I know for sure is that no matter how much wealth you come to possess, everything passes and changes with time. What is real – what is forever – is who you and what you’re meant to share with the world. That is your true treasure.” She explained: “For me, the great reward is the feeling of lasting contentment and self-respect that comes when you’re living out the truth of who you are.”

In this verse, God asks Moses to tell the people to share the gifts from their hearts. This verse is not merely about the building of the tabernacle but also about our lives today. These words remind us that each of us has unique treasures that only we can give to God and to the world. That is the essence of life. The rest is commentary.

With thanks to Rabbi Chaim Miller, Sarah Pachter, Rabbi Brett Kopin, Liane Pritikin, and Rabbi Ilana Grinblat.

Image: Replica of Golden Menorah in Jerusalem

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