Divrei Torah

PARSHAS TERUMA 5780

An important lesson about money is in today’s Parsha. As opposed to other religions, where the belief is that in order to be holy, one must separate from the physical, today’s Parsha teaches us the opposite. The Torah teaches us that the highest form of holiness can come through material matters. The Jewish people took their gold, silver, bronze and wood . . . all physical matters . . . and donated them to build a Mishkan – a Sanctuary to G-d. They took the mundane and raised it to a spiritual level. However, the wording of the donation is difficult.

In the beginning of the Parsha, G-d instructs Moshe, “and they will take for me a gift, from every man whose heart motivates him, you will take My gift.” Rabbi Moshe Feinstein notes that the word, “take” suggests that the donation be taken by force. However, we see later that the donations were given willingly. Moshe had to stop the collection because all the necessary supplies were collected. So, Rav Moshe asks, why does the Torah hint at coercion? The Torah should have stated, “and they will give?”

Rav Moshe explains and elaborates that G-d wanted contributions only from those who believed that the money they have belongs to G-d, and not to them. G-d gives a person money as a trust fund. A person has the freedom of choice how to use the money that G-d gives to him/her. The hope is that the money will be used for purposes worthy of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle. When a person gives tzedakah with this attitude – that the money is not his, rather it belongs to G-d – he is simply allowing those who collect the tzedakah to come and reclaim something that is not his anyway. The collectors are taking but the donors are not really giving.

Several years ago there were numerous organizations and tzedakah funds that were desperate for money. That is when the stock market plunged after September 11, 2001. One person – who was not always so quick to put his hand in his pocket - told me that he lost several hundred thousand dollars in the market. I told him that if he would have given it to tzedaka, it would not have been lost. He was afraid of losing his money, so G-d arranged for his great fear to happen. The money is not ours. It is a gift from G-d to be used for good and beneficial purposes. 

In Parshas Ki-Sisa – that we will read in two weeks – G-d commands Moshe again that each man should donate to the Mishkan – although this time it was to give a ½ shekel donation to the Mishkan. There, however, the Torah uses the word, “and they will give” as opposed to today’s Parsha which uses the word “and they will take.” So, in addition to the idea of money belonging to G-d and not us, there must be another idea.

The Hebrew word for “and they will give” is “V’nasnu”. The word “V’nasnu”is a palindrome. It is read the same forward and backward – Vav, nun, tuv, nun, vav. Giving tzedakah is cyclical. One who gives tzedakah will receive in return we just don’t know how or when.

The money is not our money. When we give tzedakah, the tzedakah is taking what is rightfully theirs. Nevertheless, when we use what G-d gives us for its desired purpose, G-d pays us back in return for properly administering His funds.

Giving tzedaka is called a Teruma – literally it means raising. Through tzedakah we raise the mundane money to holiness. Not only are we raising the money to holiness, we are in turn raising ourselves to lofty heights.