Shabbat Parshat Trumah 5759
Two Types of "Donations"
The RAMBAN (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman), a great thirteenth century Torah scholar, who lived in Spain most of his life, but died in Israel, in his Introduction to the Book of Shemot, says that the major theme of the book is "Paradise Attained, Lost and Regained." This means that in the Book of Bereshit, we learned about the Avot, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, in whose homes the Divine Presence resided. In the Book of Shemot, we would find the first fulfillment of the principle of "Maasei Avot, siman Lbanim", that is, "What happened to the Avot foreshadowed what would happen to their descendants."
The Children of Israel would, so to speak, attain Paradise when they would have tremendous visions of G-d at the Yam Suf, and would receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, with a never-repeated Revelation of G-d, and Hashem declared His readiness to dwell among them. But then, they would lose it, and have to "take off their crowns from Sinai" when they would act as a "shameful bride" who committed adultery while still under her wedding canopy, when they worshipped the Golden Calf. They then faced abandonment by Hashem, were it not for the prayers of Moshe, and their acts of "kapparah," atonement.
And then they would rise again to the level of the Avot, when Hashem forgave them , and allowed them to build the Mishkan, the "dwelling place," so to speak, of the Divine Presence on earth.
The Torah describes two methods by which the People of Israel attained atonement. Chronologically, the first method was by means of the "half-shekel" assessment, described in last weeks Reading of Parshat Shekalim. The second method is described in this weeks Parshah, Terumah, in the unexpectedly abundant, according to the Midrash, donations by the People of Israel, of various precious items, such as gold and silver and precious stones, for the Construction of the Mishkan.
The donations referred to above were, indeed, very different. Yet, each was referred to as a "terumah," a "donation" or, more accurately, as a "portion," because "donation" has the connotation of "voluntary," and the half-shekel, used as a vehicle for a census, was compulsory. The census was necessary because it followed soon after a plague which Hashem brought on the Jewish People as a punishment for worshipping the Golden Calf, and He wanted "to know" (of course, this was unnecessary, but he wanted to demonstrate his concern to the People) how many of his "sheep" had survived. As an item to be counted for a census, the amount obviously had to be uniform. Nevertheless, there seems to be more than that involved in the Torah's prescription of the half-shekel, "Let the rich not contribute more, and let the poor not contribute less, than a half-shekel, to contribute the "portion" of Hashem, to atone for your souls." (Shemot 30:15)
In our Parshah, Terumah, the donations were voluntary. And the response of the Jewish People to the appeal was completely unexpected, and surprised even the Princes of the Tribes, who had held back, according to the Midrash, from contributing, expecting there to be gaps which needed to be filled. According to RASHI, the "father of Commentators," who lived in the late eleventh - early twelfth centuries in France, the instructions for the construction of the Mishkan really were given by G-d to Moshe, and the Torah's account of the super-abundant contributions of the Israelites, refer to events which occurred later, after the incident of the Golden Calf. And therefore, there was a strong element of atonement involved in these contributions as well.
Why this tremendous difference in the contributions? Perhaps an answer can be gained by recalling the statement of the RAMBAN that the Jewish People were trying to get back to the level of the Avot. And that the Avot had lived exemplary lives as individuals and also founded the People of Israel. Therefore, the atonement of the Jewish People had to affect their lives both as individuals and as members of "Klal Yisrael," the "Community of Israel." And thus, their individual contributions of half-shekels redeemed them individually and, when they asserted their national character, and strove for closeness to Hashem by helping to build His House, they redeemed their character as a People.
May we dare ask Hashem, at this point in our history, to accept our suffering as the "fiery" half-shekel which Moshe perhaps did not want to see, but had to be shown, and, despite the fact that many of us still worship the "Golden Calf" - as two holidays of Redemption approach, the one "hidden," the other "revealed," to redeem us yet again, and bring our righteous Mashiach.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU