This week’s perasha begins Vayik-chu Li Terumah. And let them take for me a portion or a donation. With these words begins the first Jewish fundraiser for the building of the mishkan - the tabernacle in the desert. And unlike almost any other fundraiser in our history, this one ended three days later with Moses telling the people, "we don’t need anymore, we have enough".
When it comes to building beautiful edifices, the Jewish people have always given generously. Solomon built the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and the Romans referred to the second Temple as one of the wonders of the world. We continued this tradition over the next two millennia to this day with splendid synagogues built throughout the world.
But can setting aside Terumah - a portion of what we have - be for more than building Temples and synagogues?
We received lots of feed back to last week’s article where we wrote about our requirement to help this less fortunate and those in need.
When I began looking at this week’s portion on Saturday night, I came across a haunting Midrash brought about King David.
The Midrash teaches that when David killed Goliath, the Israelite girls stood at the windows, and, as he walked by, they showered him with silver and gold. David put all this money aside and consecrated it to the building of the Temple. He thus [told his son Solomon], “When I was impoverished, I prepared talents of gold”.
Although David was very poor at the time he fought Goliath, he was able to set aside all that money that he was given for his great victory.
Later, there was a time when there was famine for three continuous years and the Israelites asked King David to give them that money to sustain them. This is in accordance with the law, because if a community raises money to build a synagogue, and then they need it to redeem captives or to support the poor who are dying of hunger, if there is no other money, that which was raised for the synagogue must be used.“
King David, however, did not want to give the money. He felt that there was a vast difference between building the Holy Temple and building an ordinary synagogue. Hashem told him, “Since you did not have pity on the poor, and did not give them the money, you will not be worthy of building the Temple during your lifetime.”
This is the meaning of Hashem's word to King David, "Since you have shed so much blood . . . you will not build the Temple”. Hashem considered David's refusal to support the poor as an act of bloodshed, especially since many died of hunger. Hashem said, "Since you kept the money to build the Temple, you will not be the one to build it. Rather, it will be built by your son, Solomon, after you die".
Hashem also arranged that Solomon would not need any of the money that David had set aside. Since David did not have pity on the poor, the money was set aside, and not used by anyone."
The Meam Loez comments, from all this, we see how careful the officials must be to support the poor. This is true of everyone. Our main obligation is to support the poor and not to spend money for luxuries, even in the observance of commandments.
Rav Yaakov Culi continues, Alluding to this, Hashem said, “Let them take an offering for Me.” He did not say that they should “give it to Me.” This teaches that the main reason charity was collected was so that it would be taken by those in need. The rest was to be consecrated for the Tabernacle.
I saw a beautiful thought related to this and so pertinent to us in our times by Rabbi Haim Palachi who was the chief rabbi of Izmir in Turkey during the mid-19th century. The Haham Bakshi, appointed by the Sultan, was a renowned scholar authoring close to 80 books. His influence extended throughout the world and he felt a personal responsibility for all Jews. He had a close friendship with both Baron de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore.
During the blood libel in Damascus in 1840, he called for the support of these two friends along with Don Abraham Kamando of Egypt. Through their intercession, the innocent Jewish victims in Damascus were exonerated. During his lifetime the Jewish community of Turkey experienced what we would consider for the times to be a good and protected life. Understanding the scholar and the socio economic conditions during his life time always gives us better insight into their explanations and teaching.
The Rabbi as cited by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, notes that the word terumah, which is interpreted here as a contribution, has the same letters - taf, resh, vav, mem, heh - as the word hamotar, that which is extra or a luxury.
Haham Haim Palachi derives a noteworthy lesson from the similarity between these two words. This implies that there is a correlation between the extras or the luxuries -hamotar- of life that one enjoys and the charity - terumah- which one gives.
A person's commitment to charity is measured against the luxuries he allows himself. If it is clear from his lifestyle that he is not frugal and is prepared to spend money on luxuries and extras, then Heaven pays careful heed to what occurs when someone comes knocking on the door collecting for a worthy cause. Is he as free with his charity - terumah - as he is with his -hamotar - luxuries? Does the same generosity that manifests itself in his own life style manifest itself in his spending on for fulfilling the misvot- Commandments?
The rabbi comments, aside from the primary danger of luxuries, which is that people become accustomed to indulging in unnecessary pleasures, luxuries also cause judgment to be brought on the person in Heaven. "If you had money for these luxuries", he will be asked after 120 years, "where were you when you were asked to give charity"?
Do we do the same for the poor, or do we assure them that suddenly we have no liquid assets available? If there is money for extravaganzas, we are obligated to have funds available to assist those who are in need.
What a timely message this week as we are only days away from Purim and the misvah of matanot laEvyonim - gifts to the poor in addition to Pesach with the requirement of Kimcha D'pischa relating to the age-old custom of giving charity before Pesach to the city's poor so they will be able to afford all their Passover needs. What a perfect time to do a review of our own giving and our requirement to set aside our Terumah.
By: Rabbi David Bibi