Obligation and Offering

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT TERUMA

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

Obligation and Offering

Summarized by Jeremy Spierer

 

"And God said to Moshe: Speak to the children of Israel and have them bring Me an offering (teruma). Take My offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give. The offering that you take from them shall consist of the following: gold, silver, copper... They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them." (Shemot 25:1-3, 8)

"Meanwhile [the Israelites] were bringing more gifts each morning. All the craftsmen engaged in the sacred work [left] the work they were doing, and came [to Moshe]. They said to Moshe, 'The people are bringing much more than is needed for the work that God commanded to do.'" (Shemot 36:4-5)

The Torah refers to an outpouring of generosity, nedivut lev. Not only did Benei Yisrael bring supplies voluntarily, but they brought in excess. The Torah's portrayal of these events is extremely positive.

Rashi, in the beginning of our parasha, explains (based on Megilla 29b) that the three appearances of the word "teruma" here refer to three separate donations to the mishkan: the mandatory half-shekel for the adanim, the bases of the beams, the mandatory half-shekel for the communal offerings, and the voluntary offering of an unspecified amount for the construction of the rest of the mishkan. The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) finds this comment difficult. The Torah overtly relates only to the voluntary drive for the mishkan materials; there is no apparent reference to the other donations. The Maharal answers that logically, the demand for the mandatory half-shekels must precede the call for voluntary donations. The element of compulsion is indispensable in constructing the mishkan. Had the call for voluntary donations been issued first, the people might voluntarily have provided all of the resources for the Mishkan, thereby eliminating the need for the mandatory contributions (see notes on the Gur Aryeh).

The Maharal's comments contain an important message. Nedivut lev, voluntary avodat Hashem, is certainly positive, but only if rooted first in a spirit of obligation, of commitment. The funds for the physical base of the mishkan came from an obligation, not from an act of altruism.

The Torah describes the Jews' voluntary acceptance of the Torah, "We will do and we will understand" (24:7). Yet Chazal describe an acceptance through coercion: Hashem hoisted a mountain above their heads and said, 'If you accept [the Torah], good; if not, here will be your burial place'"(Shabbat 88a). Their voluntary acceptance, however positive, was not sufficient. Hashem required a firm commitment.

Western culture, particularly that promoted in America, preaches individualism, personal choice. Nothing can infringe upon a person's rights. In our world this has taken many forms. People desire to keep mitzvot, to lead a religious life, but only because they want to, not because they feel they have to.

In addition, people shy away from commitment - to family, to society. I visited a shul in America where I found very few children. After inquiring regarding the reason, I discovered that most of the members were single. They were not getting married; they were unwilling to commit. In Israel society, people speak of lack of motivation in the armed forces. People do not feel a commitment to defend the country; commitment smacks of coercion.

"One thing I ask from Hashem ... that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Hashem and to visit in His temple" (Psalms 27:4). King David asks to establish permanent residence in Hashem's house - but at the same time to maintain the excitement and enthusiasm of a first-time visitor. Similarly, we should always strive to learn Torah with this enthusiasm, to arrive at the beit midrash as if it were our first time. But some days we wake up without this longing for the beit midrash. Yet we still have to come.

Again, the overflowing generosity Benei Yisrael displayed was extremely positive. However, Rashi places this voluntary donation third, after the mandatory gifts. The first teruma for the adanim represents the need for an underlying obligation. The second teruma for the communal offerings represents an objective goal. Avodat Hashem is rooted first in obligation and defined goals, not in subjective desire. This is the message of the terumot.

(Originally delivered Leil Shabbat, Parashat Teruma 5757.)

 

 


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