Parshat Terumah- Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In memory of my dear friend Minister Uri Orbach z"l
Parshat Terumah is the first in a series of the final five parshiot of Sefer Shemot which describe the process of creating the Mishkan (tabernacle). The intricate level of detail reflects the fundamental spiritual importance of the Mishkan, to Am Israel and the entire world. The Mishkan will infuse G-d's presence in the encampment of Israel and will build another level in the world's spiritual maturity (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:12). This is the reason that the Mishkan is essential, and without it Israel would be missing an important factor of its spiritual existence.
When learning these parshiot, we must make a point of integrating this encounter with the spiritual power of the Torah with learning the "pshat" – the plain meaning. Too often this power eclipses the important wisdom and conclusions that we can learn from the pshat and from a practical analysis of the Torah and the events described in it.
Am Israel, which at the time only emerged on the stage of history, took on itself for the first time a national project which will place holiness and G-d's presence literally in the center of the camp. For this, we were commanded to raise resources from the national community.
"Speak to B'nei Israel, and they will take me a Terumah (offering); take my Terumah from every man whose heart prompts him to give. And this is the Terumah that you will take from them: gold, silver and copper…and they will make me a Mikdash (Temple) and I will dwell within them." (Shemot 25:2)
According to the pshat of the Torah and our sages, the national project of building the Mishkan brought up issues of leadership and management, of capabilities in design and architecture, of accurate and professional execution, and afterwards of accountability for proper use of the contributions given. Within all of this, let us focus on the Torah's strategy for raising resources for a national project of holiness.
The Torah's command was to raise Terumot to build the Mishkan. The Terumah depends on the motivation of every man's heart: "every man whose heart prompts him to give". We find a similar command in building the first Temple: "And the leaders of the clans, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the leaders of the thousands and of the hundreds, and the chiefs of the king's work made voluntary offerings…and the nation rejoiced over its voluntary offerings because they offered with a full heart to G-d )Divrei Hayamim A, 29:6-9)". And regarding the second Temple: "With silver and gold and goods and livestock, together with the voluntary offerings for the house of G-d in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:4)
However, the Terumah to the Mishkan wasn't only voluntary: "Our Rabbis tell us that the Torah speaks of three Terumot here: one is a "beka" per head, from which the Adanim – the silver bases (of the beams of the Mishkan) were made…one was the "Terumah of the altar", a beka per head, for the fund to buy communal sacrifices, and one was the Terumah of the Mishkan which each person gave as he wished. Thirteen items are mentioned, all of these were needed for building the Mishkan or for the clothing of the Kohanim." (Rashi on Shemot 25:2)
Thus only one of the Terumot was voluntary, and two were obligatory and collected equally: "Every one included in the census will give this: half a shekel in (the currency of) the shekel of the sanctuary, each shekel being twenty Gerah, the offering to G-d must be half a shekel. The rich may not add, and the poor may not detract from half a shekel, to give an offering to G-d." (Shemot 30:13)
Voluntary offerings and an obligatory tax reflect two sides of the Mishkan. On one hand, the Mishkan is an essential project, necessary from a national and societal standpoint. Lacking it would be detrimental to the nation and its mission, therefore it must be funded by the public treasury, and not depend on individual good will. There must be no question about its existence. Therefore the national leadership must collect resources from the public as an obligation, as a kind of tax.
On the other hand, resources collected by coercion do not bring out the good will of the public. Generosity and volunteering bring out people's good will, their emotional ties and their identification with a cause.
When resources are collected as an obligation, it must be done in an equal manner and the sum must be basic and not too high. But when the contribution comes from free choice, good will and a giving heart, it is likely that some people may give nothing, but others will give with overwhelming generosity, and sometimes even beyond their means.
The obligatory tax of half a shekel provides the foundations of the Mishkan, the Adanim. However the Mishkan itself, and all that is inside it, came from the voluntary giving that came from the heart.
The giving that comes from the depths of the feeling heart creates a lofty uplifting of the spirit which makes its impression on the Mishkan: "When every person in Israel gives a gold or silver part of the Mishkan, in the process he gives the good will of his heart along with the gold and silver. From the gold and silver, the Mishkan and its contents are made, and from the good will (are made) a "home" and "resting station" for He who lives eternally… G-d's connection with B'nei Israel is not because of the "canopy" but because of the willing heart which is within the nation… So the Mishkan is like the candle, and the love is like the flame at the top of the candle. The love and willing heart of Am Israel illuminated towards the "face" of G-d… Both are found in the Mishkan, one inside of the other: the inner, spiritual one resulting from the willing heart of B'nei Israel and the outer one by virtue of the physical offering. Therefore they are called Mikdash and Mishkan." (Rabbi Shmuel Lianiado, Cli Hemdah)