Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Don’t Be Stupid!

Terumah

One of the situations that often leads to anxiety or depression is when one is not self-sufficient and has to rely on the generosity of others to survive. When this happens, one’s dignity and self-esteem are affected. 

How can we ensure that the apparent inferiority in which we find ourselves in these situations of need is not interpreted —both by others and (more importantly) by ourselves— as true inferiority, which can very easily trigger episodes of anxiety or depression?

In this week’s reading, Terumah [1], we find a possible key. 

The reading opens with the theme of raising funds to build the Mishkan —the Tabernacle— in the desert. It begins with a command that G-d gives to Moses, a somewhat interesting one: “Speak to the Israelites, and let them take a contribution for Me. Let them take the contribution to Me of every man whose heart prompts him to give.”

It is striking that G-d tells Moses to tell the Jews that they shall take a contribution; he does not say, as common sense would have it, that they shall give it. Would it not be more logical to ask them to give a donation rather than asking them to receive it?

We find many explanations and teachings offered by the various commentators. I would like to share one that is relevant to the topic we are dealing with today: anxiety and depression as a consequence of perceiving ourselves as being in a situation of dependence.

As an introduction allow me to quote Rashi’s commentary on the verse. On the words “Let them take a contribution for Me,” Rashi comments: “’For Me’: for the sake of My name.” At first glance, what Rashi wants to clarify is why Almighty G-d would need a donation. Was He missing something? That is why he explains that the idea here is not that G-d needs material goods, but that the donation is received in order to serve Him by using them for the construction of the Tabernacle.

Based on Rashi’s explanation we can perhaps help one who feels inferior when needing to resort to others:  

G-d defines what every human being —both rich and poor— needs, and how his sustenance will reach him. He could have created the world in such a way that each person receives his sustenance without having to resort to anyone. It would be a wonderful world, but it would lack something important: kindness and generosity. If no one needed anything from anyone, how could there be any generosity?

To accomplish this goal, G-d imposed a system of “administration”. Everyone’s resources are there, but sometimes they must reach their destiny through a third party. In other words: when you need something and you turn to a third party to get it, don’t feel less worthy because of what you don’t have and because you depend on the favor of another; what the other will give you is yours. It’s just that G-d decided to send it to you through that specific ”administrator” for reasons that only He knows.

Imagine that you are acting in a play and you get to play the role of  the pauper instead of the billionaire, would you be depressed by that? The important thing is not the role you play but the way you play your role.

There’s a story about a certain Shloime who started working as a bus driver one day. When the first day of work was over and the day’s earnings were brought to the office, he saw that his colleagues had generated much more money than he had. When that scene was repeated the next day and the day after, he asked a colleague how it was that he generated so much more than him doing the same thing, driving a bus.

“What route do you cover?” he asked. 

“The 121,” he replied.

“Well, I cover the 163…”

The next day, Shloime arrives with an unprecedented amount of money. 

“How did you do that?” asked the manager. “You collected three times as much as they usually do on that route!”

“It’s very simple,” said Shloime. “I saw that the route assigned to me didn’t generate that much, so I switched to route 163. I see that I was right!”

“You idiot!” shouted the manager. The company didn’t hire you to generate more money; we hired you to cover that route!

“Take the contribution for Me,” says G-d. “When you turn to a third party to receive what you need, do not see this as your fault, but as my design. You have to receive because of My need for you to receive what is yours in that way; it is not because of your incompetence.”

So, the tool of the week is: No matter the specific role that the “Scriptwriter” has assigned to you, what matters is that you execute it the best way you can, and —most importantly— with joy and pride because of Who chose you for the role.

Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 908-910

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  1. Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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