For – Giving

The opening verses of Terumah and in fact the entire purpose and sequence of events appear to be shrouded in mystery and incongruity.

Note the language of the invitation to give. We are not invited to give, rather for our contributions to be taken,

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ 

Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall take gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.

Surely the word Vayitnu they should give , rather than it should be taken Vayikchu, would have been more appropriate. Additionally such a term refutes the romance of the exquisite term “Yidvenu Libo” – their heart is so moved or desires to do this act of giving.

Zooming out, we are reminded of the famous dispute as to when this passage actually occurred. Rashi argues, using the principle of  אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה the events described in the Torah are not relayed chronologically, that the command to construct the Tabernacle was an atonement and response to the sin of worshiping the golden calf. Ramban however, who does hold the claim of chronological order, contends that the purpose of the Tabernacle was a purer one, it was not a reaction to, rather a desire by God to be found in our midst. It is as if this very tension is found in the opening instruction. Are we  ordered or invited to give? Is the appeal to our heart or our stiff necks?!

Of course there are even more profound questions that arise out of this conundrum, that of God “needing” things from us. Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), also known as the Kedushat Levi, has an acute insight into this. Vayikchu li refers to taking something from God, Take Me or from Me. The remarkable gift we are taking from God is the remarkable act of giving. 

Following the “giving” of the Torah, which we can assume both Rashi and Ramban accept as occurring before this event, we as a people whose primary experience is that of slavery and oppression are being taught a radical truth that will enable the creation and maintenance of a people that is commanded to be “Anshei Kodesh” A Holy People. – Be For-Giving, recognize the needs of the other and be there to address them. Move out of the modality of personal survival to that of communal thriving, be empathetic to the pleas of the oppressed, guard the rights of minorities, hear the cries of the stranger, widow and orphan, those vulnerable in our societies. 

What a disgrace that these fundamental directives are being desecrated on the altar that solely serves the criminal interests of the shameful villains in a house that defies the possibility of the promise of enabling God לשכן בתוכם to dwell within it or them.

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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