“Good Will Hunting” Parashat Teruma 5782

Preparing the Torah reading requires a large amount of effort. For one thing, Hebrew has no vowels. Pronunciation is determined via diacritical signs called “nikkud” – “dots” – that adorn the letters. A Torah scroll is written without nikkud and without cantillation marks (ta’amei hamikra), requiring the Torah reader to commit to memory not only the words but also the sentence structure. And that’s the easy part.

As a rule, the Torah reader must read the words precisely as they are written. He is permitted to mispronounce words if and only if he does so in a way that does not change the meaning of the text. This is no trivial task. Some Hebrew words have multiple meanings depending on which syllable of the word is emphasized[1] and the Torah reader must be sure to annunciate these words correctly. Another parameter that gives Torah readers fits is the “sh’va”, one of the nikkud. There are two types of sh’va. One type is called the “sh’va nach” – the “resting sh’va”. This sh’va has no sound at all and serves as a sort of placeholder. The second type is called the “sh’va na” – the “moving sh’va”. This sh’va sounds like an English schwa (Ə), described by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “an unstressed mid-central vowel (such as the usual sound of the first and last vowels of the English word America)”. Hebrew grammar comprises a litany of rules as to when a sh’va is moving and when it is resting. For instance, a sh’va under the first letter of a word is always moving. Using the wrong type of sh’va can sometimes drastically alter the meaning of a word. One such instance appears in the second verse of the Portion of Teruma.

One of the most important books written for the serious Torah reader is called “Em LaMikra”, written by Rabbi Nissan Sharoni, who lives in Ashdod[2]. The first section of “Em LaMikra” comprehensively lays out rules of Hebrew grammar. The second section of the book goes through each weekly portion and calls out “gotcha’s” – words conducive to error. The first gotcha in the Portion of Teruma appears in a verse [Shemot 25:2] in which G-d commands the Jewish People to donate precious material towards the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan): “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him (yid’venu libo).” Rashi, the most eminent of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century, explains that the word “yid’venu” comes from the verb “N-D-V[3], and means “good will”. On the basis of this comment, Rabbi Sharoni writes that the Torah reader must be sure to read the word “yid’venu” with a moving sh’va, and not as “yidvenu” with a resting sh’va. The reason is that the word “yidvenu” comes from the verb “D-V-H”, meaning “misery”, as in the Book of Lamentations [1:13] where the prophet Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem: “[G-d] has left me forlorn, In constant misery (davah).” If a resting sh’va were substituted for a moving sh’va, it would sound as if G-d was commanding that donations toward the building of the Mishkan be given by “every miserable person”. This is admittedly an odd way to begin a fund drive.

Or maybe not. Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, currently the Director of Education of the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), runs a fascinating podcast and website called “18Forty”. Rabbi Bashevkin writes, “With a commitment to exceptional design and intellectual integrity, 18Forty is rethinking Jewish wisdom and reframing Jewish values for a modern world.” Rabbi Bashevkin chooses one issue and over three or four weeks he interviews people with vastly differing viewpoints on that issue. The most recent issue is wealth and the podcast of January 4 was a bombshell. The guest was Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann, a teacher of Torah and the founder and CIO of a very successful investment firm.

The title of the podcast is “Giving Wealth a Rest: The Economics of Shemittah”. Shemittah is the seventh – Sabbatical – year in which the land rests. During the shemittah year, a farmer is not allowed to harvest nor to sell his crops and according to Torah law, the general public are free to enter his fields and take what they like. One of the topics that Rabbi Bergmann discussed was how the laws of shemittah affect power differences created by wealth. His point was that any act of giving willy-nilly creates a power differential between the giver and the recipient. When one person gives to another, the recipient becomes beholden to the giver because without the giver’s beneficence, he would be in a worse situation. Rabbi Bergmann went so far as to suggest that giving was not only a form of control but that it could even be considered a form of violence. Once every seven years, shemittah corrects this paradigm[4], replacing giving with sharing, a kind of “giving in which there is no taking”. Folding Rabbi Bergmann’s innovation into the above-mentioned verse from the Portion of Teruma, the act of giving is not only infused with good will – it is infused with misery, as well. Perhaps the Torah reader does not need to be overly pedantic with his sh’va – either sh’va would fit equally well.

Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, who died last year in Jerusalem, offers a way out of our imbroglio. Writing in “Chiba Yetera[5], Rabbi Henkin analyses the conjugation of the term “yid’venu libo” – translated above as “his heart so moves him”. Hebrew grammar is infused with all sorts of conjugations. One of these is called the hiphil – causative – conjugation. For example, the noun “mattar” means “rain” such that the causative “him’tir” means “to cause to rain”. Similarly, the noun “ne’dava” means “gift” such that the causative “yid’venu” means “to cause to give”. Notice, however, what is moving this particular person to give: it is his own heart. Rabbi Henkin teaches that “yid’venu libo” is actually an example of the reflexive – hit’pael – conjugation, in which the subject and the object are one and the same.

For example, the word “yatziv” means “sturdy” and the hit’pael conjugation – hit’yatzev – means to “make one’s self sturdy”, or “to mobilize”. In the same way, yid’venu means “to cause one’s self to give”. Rabbi Henkin points out that the only time the verb N-D-V is used with the hit’pael conjugation is in connection with making offerings to Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) Ezra [2:68] “Some of the chiefs of the clans, on arriving at the House of G-d in Jerusalem, gave a freewill offering (hit’nadvu) to erect the House of G-d on its site.[6]” Rabbi Henkin explains why specifically the hit’pael conjugation is used in this context: When we give our time and our money in order to make an earthly home for G-d’s Divine Presence, the giver and the recipient are one and the same.

Referring back to Rabbi Bermann’s innovation regarding shemittah, this is most definitely another example of “giving in which there is no taking”.  We can extrapolate this idea to other kinds of philanthropic giving towards the spiritual benefit of the community at large: to our own synagogues, to Jewish youth groups and to outreach. For each of these causes, the act of giving is not an act of power because there is no “other”, there is only ourselves.

What, then, of Rabbi Sharoni’s warning? The answer is clear: as giving to the Mishkan is in no way, shape, or form, connected with misery, it is critical that the Torah reader pronounce the word “yid’venu”, with a moving sh’va. A donation to the Mishkan is the most pristine form of giving and it can only be infused with good will. Then, and only then, can we merit [Shemot 25:8] “They should make for me a Temple and I will reside in their midst”.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5782

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Eli bat Ilana, and Geisha bat Sara.

[1] Perhaps the most famous example appears in Bereishit [29:6,9]. The word “BA’ah” means “she came” (in the past tense) while the word “ba’AH” means “is coming” (in the present tense). On a personal note, when I was thirteen, I mispronounced the word [Shemot 14:25] “aNU’sah” as “anu’SAH”, changing its meaning from “I will flee” to “a violated woman”.

[2] Rabbi Sharoni happily takes questions. His telephone number is on the front cover of his book.

[3] For the grammatically advanced reader: The nun in “nedava” is replaced by a dagesh in the dalet of yid’venu, turning the sh’va under the dalet into a moving sh’va.

[4] As a successful investor, Rabbi Bergmann admitted that the world cannot run on socialism. Nevertheless, he suggested, in small, regulated doses, socialism is a critical ingredient to a vibrant economy.

[5]Chiba Yetera” is a collection of small vignettes on the weekly portion. While only a part of “Chiba Yetera” has been released in print, the entire collection has recently been added to the Sefaria web site.

[6] See also Chronicles I [29:6-7].

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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