Tag Archives: Terumah

Terumah: Why Do You Do Good?

menorah“Take for Me an offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give.”

Exodus 25:2

Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that “Take for Me” means that all donations for the Tabernacle should be given for the sake of the Almighty. The question: What difference does it make what a person’s intentions are as long as he does a good deed?

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman clarifies the role of intentions with an illustration. Suppose there is a man who wants to ensure that every child in the community has wholesome milk for breakfast. Rain or shine he delivers milk every morning. What would you say about that man? Likely you would count him amongst the great tzadikim, righteous people, a person of great kindness.

However, what would be your opinion of the man if you knew he delivered the milk only because he was getting paid? No longer is he a great tzadik, now he is just a plain milkman.

Similarly, in everything we do. If we keep in mind that we are fulfilling the Almighty’s command to do kindness, even the mundane interactions at work can be elevated to a higher spiritual level. The bus driver is no longer just driving the bus, he is helping people get to work or to shop for their families. The deed may be a good deed with or without one’s intention, but our growth in character and spirituality depend on our intentions!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
Aish.com

I suppose you could link this back to commentary on last week’s last week’s Torah portion. In the Aish.com commentary for that week, we looked at the story of a young Jewish woman who was seeking spirituality and felt actually insulted that her Jewish teachers suggested she could find it in “the (Torah) laws regarding returning a lost item.” She abandoned her pursuit of spirituality within the context of Torah and Judaism and proceeded to India. But she found that the behavior of her guru in response to his finding a lost wallet containing a large sum of money showed her that spirituality, responsibility, justice, and mercy must all go together.

In this week’s commentary, we see that even doing what is good may not be enough if the motivation of the person performing the action is less than stellar.

But let’s take two people performing an identical mitzvah. Say both of our hypothetical people are donating food to a local food bank. They both give abundantly in money and goods and many people are fed through their efforts. The first man is primarily motivated by the desire to do good to the people of his community and to serve God. The second man is primarily motivated by the tax break he’ll receive and the recognition he’ll get from his friends and family as a “good guy.”

Which one would you say is the more “spiritual” man? Obviously the first one. But regardless of motivation, people are still fed. Even the man whose motivation is only for his self-interest is doing better to serve others than the person who has “nice, warm, fuzzy” spiritual feelings toward his neighbor but donates not even a single hour, dollar, or can of chicken soup to the food bank (or any other mitzvah).

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:12-26 (ESV)

charity-tzedakahJesus said that you shall know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:20) and every tree that does not bear good fruits will be cut down and thrown in a fire (v19). James, the brother of the Master, connects faith with actions, the latter arising from the former. Jesus tells us that our very nature is revealed by our behavior. In this week’s Torah reading, God commands Moses to “accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him,” (Exodus 25:2) connecting the nature and amount of the gift with the nature of the giver. Rabbi Packouz says that regardless of motivation, an act that helps others is still of value to those being helped, “but our growth in character and spirituality depend on our intentions!”

If all we want is a tax break and to look good to others, we can perform acts of charity and help many people…as long as we are unconcerned about our relationship with God and growing within that relationship spiritually. On the other hand, if we are trying to take our relationship with God seriously, it’s not just what we do but why we do it that matters. Human beings can only see our behavior but God sees the heart.

This should be a no-brainer, but I find that in the community of faith, we are just as vulnerable to bad motivations, bad attitudes, the desire for self-righteousness rather than God’s righteousness, and the need to “be right,” as anyone operating in the secular world. Just look at the various religious blogs and discussion boards on the web and you’ll see what I mean.

Even a casual reading of the New Testament should tell any Christian who is having trouble with this concept of what to do and why to do it. It really isn’t hard to pick a mitzvah representing “the weightier matters of the Torah,” such as donating a couple of cans of soup of chili to the food bank, shoveling snow off your neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk, or holding the door open for someone who is entering the same place right behind you because it’s what Jesus has commanded us to do.

If you find yourself paying more attention to a belief that certain “ceremonial” mitzvot are your “right” while neglecting matters of “justice and mercy and faithfulness,” (Matthew 23:23), or worse, performing no acts of charity and kindness at all thinking your “faith” is all the covering you’ll need, then you might earn the same ire from the Master as did the scribes and Pharisees Jesus was originally addressing.

There is much in the Torah of Moses for everyone and it acts as the rock upon which the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures firmly rest. However, as we see, application isn’t meaningful in a spiritual sense unless we are actually using what we know to do good to others and for the right reasons.

The words of Torah should be as fresh to you as if you first heard them today.

-Rashi, Deuteronomy 11:13

Excitement often comes from novelty, but novelty is exciting only as long as it is new. Someone who buys a car fully loaded with options may feel an emotional high, but after several weeks, the novelty wears off and it is just another vehicle.

Spirituality, too, suffers from routine. Human beings may do all that is required of them as moral people and observe all the Torah’s demands in terms of the performance of commandments, yet their lives may be insipid and unexciting because their actions have become rote, simply a matter of habit. The prophet Isaiah criticizes this when he says, “Their reverence of Me has become a matter of routine” (Isaiah 29:13). Reverence must be an emotional experience. A reverence that is routine and devoid of emotion is really no reverence at all.

Path of TorahThus, the excitement that is essential for true observance of Torah depends upon novelty, upon having both an understanding of Torah today that we did not have yesterday and a perception of our relationship to God that is deeper than the one we had yesterday. Only through constantly learning and increasing our knowledge and awareness of Torah and Godliness can we achieve this excitement. Life is growth. Since stagnation is the antithesis of growth, it is also the antithesis of life. We can exist without growth, but such an existence lacks true life.

Today I shall…

…try to discover new things in the Torah and in my relationship to God.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 4”
Aish.com

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

-Lennon/McCartney
The End (from the Abbey Road album)

Good Shabbos.

Terumah: Waiting for God On Earth

When dedicating the Beis HaMikdash, King Shlomo exclaimed in wonderment: “Will G-d indeed dwell on this earth? The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain You, how much less this house!” For the Beis HaMikdash was not merely a centralized location for man’s worship of G-d, it was a place where G-d’s Presence was and is manifest. Although “the entire earth is full of His glory,” G-d’s Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all existence, but in a hidden way. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, was “the place where He chose to cause His name to dwell.” There was no concealment; His Presence was openly manifest.

Why was man’s activity necessary? Because G-d’s intent is that the revelation of His Presence be internalized within the world, becoming part of the fabric of its existence. Were the revelation to come only from above, it would merely nullify worldliness. To cite a parallel: when G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, the world ground to a standstill. “No bird chirped… nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar.” Although G-dliness was revealed within the world, material existence did not play a contributory role.

When, by contrast, the dwelling for G-d is built by man himself part of the material world the nature of the materials used is elevated. This enables G-d’s Presence to be revealed within these entities while they continue to exist within their own context.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Dwelling Among Mortals”
from the In the Garden of the Torah series
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 902;
Vol. XVI, p. 286ff; Vol. XXI, p. 146ff
Chabad.org

The building of a Mishkan foreshadows the transformation of the entire world into a dwelling place for G-d. This is accomplished through Torah, Divine service, and deeds of kindness – the “three pillars” upon which the world stands. (Avos 1:2.)
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 292-297.

In this week’s Torah portion, we see the Children of Israel being commanded to bring contributions that will be used as materials for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Moses is provided with what me might think of as a “diagram” of the Heavenly Court and told to direct the Children of Israel to build, for all intents and purposes, a “scale model” so that God might dwell among His people. This is a strange enough request when you try to picture the “environment” where God dwells in the Heavens, and then imagine what it would be like to build a physical representation of that metaphysical “place.”

But it gets even stranger.

Thus, it is understood that although the construction of the Mishkan and the bringing of donations had to have happened in accordance with only one of these three schedules, all three opinions are true as they relate to the spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew.
-Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VI, pp. 153-156.

The use of the term ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ has been interpreted as a message that the purpose of the Mishkan sanctuary was to facilitate the dwelling of the Divine Presence within the heart of every Jew. The role of the Mishkan in the wilderness and during the first four centuries of a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael was perpetuated by the first and second Beit Hamikdash Temples which spanned a period of nine centuries. All of this is today but a memory to which a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) gives a special dimension. This does not mean, however, that a Jew cannot build a mini-sanctuary in his heart even today. The Divine Presence is waiting to dwell within the hearts of all Jews if only they will let it enter!

-Rabbi Mendel Weinbach
‘The “Holy Sites”‘
For the week ending 8 February 2003 / 6 Adar I 5763
Ohr Somayach

If it seems unusual or even incomprehensible to be able to build a “scale model” of the Heavenly Court and then expect God to take up residence, how much more incredible is it to expect God to take up residence within the “spiritual Mishkan within the heart of every Jew?”

Oh, have you heard of this before?

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. –Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

Perhaps this isn’t so strange, since the Jewish disciples of the Master had a precedent for the Pentecost event act at Sinai, but what came next was completely unexpected.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. –Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

God desires to dwell among His people, which we can understand, because God once did dwell among His people in Eden before the fall. God once again, though in a somewhat different sense, arranged to dwell among His people Israel, and that dwelling was to be a light to the nations. As part of the process of God being among man, each Jew was to consider that the Divine Presence was also dwelling within each of them. This was repeated at the Pentecost event and while all of that is magnificent, the truly amazing thing in the eyes of God’s chosen ones, was (and perhaps still is for some Jewish people) that the Creator extended His splendid and compassionate grace, even to the Gentiles.

But is this the whole story and, now that Christianity boasts of the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” is this work finally complete?

On the ninth day of the month of Av (“Tish’ah B’Av”) we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Both the First Temple (833-423 bce) and the Second Temple (349 bce-69 ce) were destroyed on this date. The Shabbat preceding the fast day is called the “Shabbat of Vision,” for on this Shabbat we read a chapter from the Prophets (Isaiah 1:1-27) that begins, “The vision of Isaiah…”

On the “Shabbat of Vision,” says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final Temple — a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, “though we do not see ourselves, our souls see.” This vision evokes a profound response in us, even if we are not consciously aware of the cause of our sudden inspiration.

Adapted by Yanki Tauber
“Shabbat of Vision”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Chabad.org

I previously mentioned that Christianity abandoned a major portion of it’s history and heritage by tossing the Jewish foundation of our faith aside, so I can understand that the church would view any Jewish “vision” of the Third Temple with skepticism if not utter disbelief. Perhaps they are right, but could there be any way to reconcile all of the imagery we have of the bodies of believers being as Temples for the Spirit of God and the coming of a Third, physical Temple where God will once again dwell among His people Israel?

Maybe.

Especially in western thought, we tend to see conditions as “either or”. Either the Spirit dwells in the Temple, or it dwells within the heart of the believer. For some reason, it can’t be both, although I’m not sure why. After all, in Judaism, the Divine Presence dwelt within the Mishkan, but it also dwelt within each Jewish heart in some mysterious, spiritual, and mystic way. God, in a metaphysical manner, dwelt within the Heavenly court, but He also made it possible for a physical replica of His “abode” to be created among His people Israel so He could also dwell among men, even though no structure could possibly contain Him.

God’s desire to be among us is fraught with problems when we actually make ourselves wonder how it is possible, and yet we see reliably, that God has indeed done so, in Eden, in the Mishkah, and in Solomon’s Temple. Jews are said to be able to have a vision, on a mystic level, of the Third Temple on the Shabbat just before the Ninth of Av. What are the Jewish people supposed to see and understand? Perhaps this.

The First Temple was built on Divine command and assistance. The Second Temple was constructed at the orders of a human being. The level of revelation associated with it, and the accompanying miracles, were far less intense. Yet, precisely because it came to be built through human efforts and on human initiative, it had a greater impact on this world. It was larger than the first Temple, taking up more of this world in terms of space, and it lasted longer, occupying this world for a greater length of time.

The Third Temple, like the Shabbat on which we are shown its image, combines the strengths of both the first and second Temples. It combines the Divine revelation, an inspiration from Above, along with human effort, an inspiration from below, to create a permanent home for G-dliness. Thus is the lesson and inspiration of this Shabbat. We are given a Divinely revealed vision which we must combine with human efforts to permanently alter the world we live in, and, even more challenging, ourselves.

-Chana Kroll
“Make It Real”
Shabbat Chazon
chabad.org

Repeatedly, we’ve seen how God must contribute to the construction of His dwelling on Earth, but so must man. While God does not need human beings to offer their efforts in the service of Divine tasks, we see in the Bible how people are continually involved in “building” with God and repairing the world. While God does not “need” our help, something about the nature of God dwelling among us requires that we be actively engaged. In this, we must take “ownership” of our desire to return the holy sparks within us to Him, not by our going up to God, but in allowing God to come down to us. Somehow, God dwelling within us and God dwelling among us in a Temple are all interconnected. We must change the world for Him but we must also change ourselves. Paradoxically, we can do neither without God’s help, but then, those tasks cannot occur without us, either. I can’t explain how it all works. I only know that God is showing all of us, not just the Jewish people, a picture of His future with His people; His human beings.

Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev uses the following metaphor to explain the necessity of the Three Temples and why we must wait such a long time for Him to be truly among us again.

A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father’s gift and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes; this one, too, was ruined by the child’s carelessness. So the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withholds it from his son. Every once in a while, on special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the gift, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him — at which time he will be worthy of his father’s gift.

God has shown us His gift in the Messiah, but He also withholds the Messiah’s coming until we are ready. But God is gracious enough to show us what will happen once we reach this state of being worthy. Through the vision of a prophet, we can see the return of the Messiah, our later return to Eden, and finally, the placing of the Throne of God among us at a future time when the requirement for Ezekiel’s Temple is no longer necessary.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

But before all that happens, we must come to terms with our struggle between life in this world, in the spirit and in the body, as Rabbi Tzvi Freeman relates:

The human mind despises the body that houses it, but the soul has only love.

The mind would soar to the heavens, but for a body that chains it to the earth. The mind would be consumed in divine oneness, but for the body’s delusion of otherness, as though it had made itself.

But the soul sees only G-d.

In that very delusion of otherness,
in that madness of the human ego,
even there, the soul sees only G‑d.
For she says, “This, too, is truth.
This is a distorted reflection of the Essence of all things,
of that which truly has neither beginning nor cause.”

And so she embraces the bonds of the body,
works with the body, transforms the body.
Until the body, too, sees only G-d.

—Basi LeGani 5712

Good Shabbos.