Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Weekly Parsha: Terumah

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One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

“From every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.” –Exodus 25:2

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Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins
expandedspirit.org and N’vay Shalom

The biblical understanding of the words yidvenu libo is a willing heart, to give voluntarily. The question for me is why does G-d open the sentence with “let them take for Me a portion,” making a clear statement and then couching it with a qualifier— “those who are willing,” or want to volunteer. S/He makes a statement, then turns it into an invitation. 

We must remember, two portions prior, the people meet G-d at Sinai for the first time. In Egypt, they experienced some of the wonders of the Holy One, but Sinai is truly their first date. It doesn’t go so well, for they basically reject G-d, telling Moses: “You speak to us, let not G-d speak to us or we will die.” The sounds, the flames and the shuddering mountain terrify them. They reject G-d and stand back. This is now a test. G-d fears they may not want to come back or truly give from their heart. This project, the Mishkan, is an opportunity for G-d to receive and for the people to wholeheartedly give. In G-d’s tzim tzum, S/He contracts from the overpowering presence at Sinai to a more welcoming sanctuary, a container for giving and receiving. The people’s hearts expand and flow with generosity, till Moses says we have enough. 

This is a healing moment both for G-d and for the people, and a great reminder for all of us that giving wholeheartedly nourishes both the one who receives and the one who gives.

Miriam Yerushalmi

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It is interesting that the verse first says, “From every person whose heart inspires him to generosity,” and then states, “you shall take My offering.” Couldn’t it just say, “Every person should give their offering?” Of the many deep lessons here, one stands out for me. There’s a saying, “Give with your heart.” That’s a good way to give. Yet, “Good is good but better is better!” With this verse, HaShem is teaching us the best way to give. 

Our heart, our soul, is made up of two parts: the animal soul and the G-dly soul. The “inspired heart” can refer to the animal soul, which on its own desires to give for self-serving purposes, such as for honor or gratification. “My offering” then refers to how HaShem gives: altruistically. HaShem wants our G-dly soul, the piece of HaShem within us that is not subject to mundane influences, to inspire our animal soul to follow HaShem’s lead. 

This verse is emphasizing that each of us has been gifted with the ability to emulate G-d. When we give to others with true humility and a pure, whole heart, whether it be tzedakah, a helping hand, or even a kind word, we display our ability to be more G-d-like. By taking to heart G-d’s offering, the true sparks of the animal soul are ignited and through us G-d’s light is revealed in the world. So the next time you give, remember it is best, indeed, to give purely with a united heart. 

Adam Kligfeld
Senior Rabbi/Temple Beth Am

Generosity. Of spirit. The first word connotes something financial. The addition of the other two enters into the realm of the emotional. To build a building one might need only the former. To build a community, one needs even more of the latter. 

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Is that awareness what drove the Or HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, 18th century, Morocco/Jerusalem) to read our verse against the grain? Asher yidvenu libo translates as “whose heart inspires him to generosity.” Indeed, its plain meaning suggests largesse, or at least potential largesse. The lev, heart, is the subject of the verb, nudging the individual toward n’davah, generosity. Give as much as you can. Stretch your heart, because the needs are large. 

The Or HaChaim reads this not as a plea for more giving, but rather a command not to give unless one’s heart is open to it. In his words, “God wants that every donation be from the heart, and the giving should not take place until the generosity of the heart is manifest.” The amount matters less than the attitude. Rather than setting up ancient Israelite society, during this first great Jewish building project of the Tabernacle/Mishkan as a financial meritocracy, he reads the verse as obligating everyone to give what is possible to give — with a full heart, which should always be possible. 

Our communities must still be built this way. With the necessary funds, yes, but also with the indispensable generosity of the heart and soul.

Rabbi Mendel Schwartz
The Chai Center

What if Moses or King Solomon said, “Thanks for your monthly credit card contributions, but I decided to spend your tzedakah in Vegas.” (Sadly, this happened many times throughout our Jewish history.) 

The act of giving charity is the mitzvah, according to the Torah. 

We’ve all debated whether to give that homeless man on the corner a dollar bill, wondering if it’s going for food or cigarettes. Well, there’s another difference between philanthropy and charity.

The highlight of the Tabernacle in the desert, and the Temple in Jerusalem, was the ark in the Holy of Holies that housed the Torah scroll and tablets. There were two staves that were inserted into two rings on each side of the ark, enabling the Levites to carry the ark from place to place. Even after Solomon stationed the ark into the permanent Temple, he made sure the staves were slightly extended so that they gently pushed against the curtain that partitioned the holy of holies from the main sanctuary. This way, everyone outside the Holy of Holies was able to see the staves protruding against the curtain. 

Why the protrusion? The sages teach us that the ark represents the Torah and its institutions. The staves that carry the ark represent the donors. It is you the people who give tzedaka to all the wonderful Jewish causes that allow the Torah to exist. I am a rabbi who gets paid to be Jewish. It is the people’s contributions, however, that allow Judaism and G-d to flourish in this world.

Ido Kedar
Author, Autism Blogger and Advocate

The first Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a precisely designed structure, with exact measurements, described in detail in ornamentation and jewels, a suitable place to honor God. After the mistake of the golden calf it was important to leave no room for error. But why does God even need a Mishkan? After all, many of us have our deepest spiritual moments in nature, marveling at the magnificence of God’s creation. The answer is that the Mishkan was built for the people. It had a specific purpose for them. The labor of creating something magnificent to honor God was a reminder to humans to be grateful for their blessings in a way they could fathom. After all, these are the same people who were so overwhelmed by God’s presence and Moses’ absence that they resorted to building an idol. But here, in the Mishkan, they could worship in the proper environment for honoring and giving thanks.

God gives the Israelites a gift as they build the Mishkan because the act of generously giving elevates the giver. When we give thanks, charity or our time to help others, we ourselves are elevated. Through building the Mishkan, the builders of the golden calf are transformed because this time their hearts move them to generosity. This is significantly different than building a calf out of panic and superstition. The Israelites, as a people, grow from this act of giving and thus redeem themselves and become better through the act.

During Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, Table for Five includes young voices from Vista Del Mar’s Moses-Aaron Cooperative Program. 

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