Parshat Terumah - When Giving becomes Taking

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama
-By Elisheva Maline

This week's Torah portion, Parshat Terumah seemed fairly straight forward until now: Hashem needed the Jews to donate materials for building the mishkan (tabernacle) and its holy vessels. This is why the first few pasukim (verses) show us G-d asking Moshe to organize donations of gold, silver, copper, acacia wood, precious stones, oil, spices, and two types of animal fur from the Jews. That's a steep order of items You've got there G-d. Therefore, the question that begs asking is: why does the Hebrew word for 'taking' appear in the pasukim instead of the word for 'donating' or 'giving'? 

There's a story told about a rich man who shelled out thousands of dollars to help build a study hall for scholars in Israel. When the construction was complete, the Gerrer Rebbe threw a dinner party for the community. At the dinner, the Rebbe's gabbai (personal helper) whispered to him, "Perhaps you should acknowledge the man who gave money for the building." When the Rebbe failed to respond, he repeated himself, "I think the Rebbe should honor the gentleman who 'gave the buiding!' "To this comment the Rebbe replied, "He didn't give a building. He took a building." In other words although he donated funds to build a study hall he earned a huge reward in the next word.

Perhaps a closer look at the inter relationship between 'taking' and 'giving' is in order. The first three pasukim of Teruma informs us, "And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying, "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they will take for Me a teruma - donation (in Hebrew the base verb is lit'rome - to donate); of every man whose heart is willing, from him will you take My teruma. And this is the teruma that you will take from them..." (Exodus 25:1-3). By repeating the word take three times, G-d was driving home the idea that taking is not a dichotomy of giving because they represent two sides of the same coin. In giving one is actually taking. 

"And they will take for Me a teruma" (Exodus 25:2). In the desert, when Bnei Yisrael gave their possessions to G-d, according Rashi, G-d asked them for purposeful intention as well. Not only must one give physically of himself but his thought process must run along the same line, "I am giving for the sake of revealing G-d's name in the world" as well. 

One of my friends is a painter.The walls of her house are covered in artwork. Some of her paintings are based off photos and nature scenes.  I once noticed a small painting of a castle sitting on a green island surrounded by a crashing ocean and blue/grey clouds splitting in a blue sky. She told me, "That's my castle of hopes and dreams." I wanted that painting like a child desiring a genie. It seemed like the answer to all my problems. However, the price she quoted was too high and I let it go. Moments after I left, I discovered that she had slipped the painting into my bag when I wasn't looking. Chagrined, I called her up the next day. "Thank you Sarah, but why did you give me the picture for free?" I never forgot her answer, "When you love something that much, it's worth giving away." 

The best kinds of gifts are the ones given from a love filled heart. It's only in the aftermath that we discover how much we receive by giving away something that is precious in our eyes. Isn't that what life is all about?   

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Leslie Lim said...
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