“G-d’s Love Letters”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Terumah, we begin a series of five parashiot that deal rather extensively with the details of erecting the Mishkan–the portable Tabernacle that accompanied the people of Israel during their forty-year trek through the wilderness.

Except for the episode of the Golden Calf that is found in parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 32), the five parashiot that conclude the book of Exodus are painstakingly complex, and, because of the innumerable details, are often regarded as uninspiring. The truth is, however, that each of the verses of these five parashiot contains rather glorious nuggets of wisdom and truth, but, because of the complexity of the subject matter, require effort to appreciate.

Evidence of the wisdom that is to be found in these parashiot is immediately apparent in the opening verses of parashat Terumah. G-d speaks to Moshe, telling him to speak to the people of Israel (Exodus 25:02): “V’yik’khoo lee terumah, may’ayt, kol eesh asher yid’venu leebo tik’khoo et teru’matee,” let them take for Me a portion [a donation for the Tabernacle], from every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion. The rabbis immediately question the use of the verb “v’yik’khoo,” let them take, after all, the text should read “v’yit’nu,” let them [the people] give, since the people are being called upon to make donations for the building of the Tabernacle.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in Darash Moshe, a volume containing selections of Rabbi Feinstein’s comments on the weekly portion, suggests that by using the word take, rather than give, the Torah wishes to underscore that the entire world belongs to G-d. The Al-mighty therefore tells the Children of Israel to take of G-d’s belongings, which He has temporarily placed in their possession, and donate them as gifts to the Tabernacle. This explains the use of the phrase at the end of the verse that states “tik’khoo et teru’matee,” take My portion–after all, all that a mortal donates really comes from G-d’s portion!

Rabbi Feinstein further elucidates that the holiness of the sanctuary can only be achieved from contributions that come from those who recognize that their material possessions do not really belong to them, but to G-d. This way, Rabbi Feinstein points out, the Al-mighty teaches a profound lesson to humankind, that one should not be under the misconception that the holiness of the sanctuary emanates from G-d. To the contrary, it is the mandate of the Jew to invest the Tabernacle with sanctity–not just to build the outer physical/material shell. It is in this manner that human beings cause G-d’s presence to dwell among them.

This further explains why all donations to the Mishkan have to be given with a thoroughly willing heart. It is not good enough for a donor to the Tabernacle to say: “I don’t really want to give, but since G-d commanded, I must do so.” That attitude is acceptable with most other Mitzvot, but in order to invest the Tabernacle with sanctity, it is required that the donor desire to be generous. In fact, any compulsion implied in the word “v’yik’khoo,” take for me, refers to the force that each donor is expected to muster in order to change his or her nature, so that a generous attitude not only dominates but becomes the internal “default mode.”

Citing the statement from Ethics of Our Fathers 3:8: “Give Him from His own, for you and your possessions are His,” the Malbim further adds that every person must be cognizant of the fact that their personal wealth is really G-d’s, not their own. Since each person receives their livelihood from G-d, they must be prepared to give happily and magnanimously. Those who properly master these feelings will discover that G-d will provide for them to be in a particularly propitious position to give generously to many worthy causes.

The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 33:1 adds a very beautiful nuance to our understanding of the Biblical phrase, “v’yik’khoo lee terumah,” let them take for Me a portion. The Midrash states that the Al-mighty is much different from a mortal merchant. When one buys an item from a merchant, and the buyer takes possession of the item, the relationship with the merchant is immediately concluded (assuming that there are no difficulties with the item once it is acquired). However, when acquiring something from the Al-mighty, the acquisition includes a piece of the Al-mighty as well. Therefore, when the Jewish people acquired the Torah from G-d, they acquired G-d along with the Torah.

The Midrash goes on to cite a charming parable of a King whose beloved daughter married a prince from a far off land. Immediately after the wedding, the Prince and the Princess lived together in the King’s palace. But when the time came for the Prince and his Princess to return to the Prince’s homeland, the King was heartsick over the prospect of being separated from his beloved daughter. The King, therefore, asked his children to build a small chamber for him wherever they may live, so that he would be able to visit and stay with them.

When the Jewish people left Mt. Sinai, the Al-mighty could not bear being separated from His children. He asked the Jewish people to build the Tabernacle so that His presence would always be with them. Therefore, the real meaning of the phrase “v’yik’khoo lee terumah,” is not “take for Me a portion,” but “take Me as a portion,” and keep Me with you at all times, as closely as possible.

These stirring concepts come from the nitty-gritty details of the building of the Tabernacle. The copious descriptions found in these five parashiot should not be dismissed because of their repetitiveness or their seemingly “obsessive” focus on detail. They should be looked upon rather as love letters from G-d, whose every word is to be savored. And no matter how often we read them, there are new and exciting messages to uncover of G-d’s love for, and devotion to, His people Israel.

May you be blessed.