OU Torah Insights Project
In this weeks parshah, G-d asks the children of Israel to offer a gift, each man according to "the gift of his heart."
Our Sages teach: "As soon as Israel said, We will do and we will hearken, immediately G-d said, Take for me a gift." What possible connection is there between these two statements? The Bnei Yisrael, having just received the Ten Commandments, are on a high spiritual plane. They proclaim, "Naaseh Venishmah," and Hashem responds by saying, "Give me a gift. Give me money." How strange!
In reality, Hashem is teaching a fundamental insight into our human psyche. After centuries of indescribable poverty and deprivation, the Bnei Yisrael are liberated and laden with worldly goods. They are no longer slaves. They are no longer impoverished. Unfortunately, as frequently occurs to those who acquire wealth rapidly, material gain becomes an obsession. To part with material pleasure becomes unthinkable.
And so, at the precise moment that they are free from want and free from oppression, G-d says to them: "Your proclamation of Naaseh Venishmah is not enough. True, you are observing My mitzvos, you are accepting My ritual, you are willing to become religiously subservient. But now that you are rich, now that you have possessions you never had before, I am asking you to show me your loyalty by surrendering some of your newly-acquired and treasured possessions. Make a sacrifice. Deprive yourselves for My sake, and then I will know and be certain of your loving loyalty."
We face a similar situation today. The conditions of yesteryear are in diametric contradistinction to those of today. Today, many Jews are wealthy. Today, many Jews are generous. We give much charity. We give many great gifts, and not always at a great sacrifice.
It is at this precise moment that we must remember that our gifts must be "a gift of the heart."
The Sforno teaches that the exorbitant amounts of gold, silver and copper used to build the Mishkan were dwarfed by the wealth dedicated to the Temple in Jerusalem. And yet, the Sforno teaches, G-d appeared more frequently in the Mishkan. For only proper thought and proper intent establishes the glory of the Shechinah on earth.
The Hebrew for gift, terumah, is rooted in the word ram, elevation. What is the greatest gift to G-d? The spiritual elevation of oneself.
It is not the amount of gold and silver, the building or its furnishings that Hashem wants, but, rather, that man be elevated, that his soul become purified, that he learn to treat his fellow man with the love and respect befitting a creature of G-d.
May every Mishkan, every home, be built on this principle of avodas Hashem and ahavas Yisrael.
Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz
Rabbi Gewirtz is rabbi of the Young Israel of White Oak, in Silver Spring, Maryland.