Parashat Terumah

Rabbi Boaz Tomsky

       We all love weddings. Maybe it's the dancing or the joy that fills the air. What we are not all aware of are the intricate procedures of the actual wedding ceremony. One such law is that the groom must give a ring or something of value to his bride and to recite, “Harai at mikudeshes lee,” “behold you are betrothed to me.” The bride must receive some sort of benefit, worth at least a perutah for the marriage to be considered valid. Without the bride receiving any benefit, the couple is not legally married according to Jewish law.

      The Talmud does present a situation where the marriage is binding even though the groom never handed anything over to his bride. In fact, there is an instance where the marriage is valid even where she is the one giving to her groom! The Talmud explains that this is a case of an adam chashuv, an important man who usually doesn't receive presents. His accepting of her gift gives her tremendous pleasure and satisfaction. She received the personal benefit for her own generosity. Therefore, although this woman appears to be giving, in fact she is really receiving.

       Our Parsha opens with an appeal for funds. “V'yikchu lee terumah,” “and take for me a Terumah.” The commentators grapple over the wording of the text-take for me a portion. But we are the ones giving a gift. We aren't taking anything. Why then does the Torah say “V'yikchu lee terumah?”  Perhaps this teaches us the message of giving to the Beit Hamikdosh. When monies are being donated for the Mishkan's construction, that individual becomes a shareholder in the process. They have a portion in G-d's home. This feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself is really a “v'yikchu” an act of taking, not giving.

       We find this principle by the aron, the Holy Ark. The aron was made of gold with cherubs, angel-like figures on its top. In addition, the Torah says, “V'asisa badey atzei shitim, v'ztapisa osam zahav,” “you shall make staves of acacia wood and cover them with gold.” The purpose of these poles was to carry the ark when the Bnai Yisroel were traveling in the wilderness.

       Our sages teach us an incredible phenomenon about the ark, “V'aron nosei es astzmo,” “the Aron carried itself.” The ark miraculously levitated from place to place. Nonetheless, we required people to hold the poles who appeared to be carrying it. The perception was that they were doing the work. They carried and supported the Ark. But in reality, it was the ark that supported itself.

      Chazal explain that the aron represents the institutions of Torah study and that the pole bearers represent the “supporters” of Torah. The appearance is that it's the philanthropists that are giving and the institutions that are taking. In reality, “v'aron nosei es astzmo,” they receive much more than they give in being engaged in such a huge Mitzvah as supporting a Torah institution.

       Many things in life are not as they seem. This rings true for being a teacher. When I was a Judaic studies instructor I would often stop and ask myself, “Who is really the teacher and who is really the student?” I remember vividly when my eighth grade students came back from a trip to Israel a couple of years ago. Many of these children were not from Torah observant families. Most of my students were never even once in their lives in Eretz Yisroel. When they came back, I recognized my students' faces, but their souls had changed beyond recognition. One boy came into class wearing his Tzitizit out. This was the same child who never owned a pair just a month ago. Another girl before she left for the trip, told me how she wanted to attend a public high school. Now she said that after attending a Jewish high school, she wanted to learn for a year in Israel. I can't begin to tell you how much my students inspired me on that day. As a teacher, I always try my best to give my all to my students. But as I reflect back to that moment in time, I must admit that I received much more.

       I am not the first teacher to realize the greatness of his students. This concept goes back thousands of years, back to the time of the Talmud. The Gemara states, “Harbey Torah lomadetee mayrabosei umaychaveirai yoser mayhem u'maytalmudei yoser maykulan,”

      “I learned much from my teachers. I learned more from my friends and the most from my students.” I, too, appeared to be a giver but in reality “v'yikchu lee terumah.” I was a taker.

      Next week we will be celebrating the holiday of Purim. On Purim, we perform four mitzvot: shalach manot, giving gifts to our friends, mataos l'evyonim, giving to the poor, seudas Purim, the festive meal and mikra megillah, the reading of the Megillah. Out of these four mitzvot, which is the most important in terms of spending ones money? The Rambam clearly states that mataos l'evyonim, giving to the poor is the best way to spend one's money on Purim.

      Most of us don't do this. Instead, we spend the whole day of Purim driving around, delivering shalach manot to all of our friends. Perhaps, a few moments before the sun sets, we remember that we didn't give any mataos l'evyonim. We frantically run to a Tzadakah box and deposit a dollar for charity. We must stop for a moment and ask ourselves, who needs our gifts more - our friends, or the impoverished man who doesn't know where his next meal is going to come from? The answer is often lying on our dining room tables. Our tables are filled with all sorts of candies and grape juice bottles. More often than not, half of the food is thrown in the garbage. 

      True simchat Purim is giving to someone who is lacking. Bringing joy to another person is an easy way to become b'simcha, filled with true joy. One will see that the personal benefit one receives for their generosity will far surpass the few dollars one hands over to those in need. We will realize that this joy will make us the takers, not the givers. This is the message of Purim. This is the message of generosity. It is “v'yikchu lee terumah.”    


First Published February 24, 2007  for National Council of Young Israel Weekly Divrei Torah