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Parsha Terumah

02/07/2019 08:46:53 PM

Feb7

Introducing the topic of building a Mishkan, the Parsha opens with the commandment to contribute to the cause by donating all sorts of raw materials necessary for constructing the Mishkan.  The Torah writes: “And you shall take for me a contribution, from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity.”  What does it mean to “take” a contribution?  If the intended idea is for each person to give some money to the Mishkan, shouldn’t the Torah say “give” a contribution?  Moreover, how can the Pasuk open with an imperative- to take- implying a sort of obligation- and conclude with “from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity?”  If the donations were legislated obligations, than they would obviously not be “from each person who heart inspired him.”  Were these mitzvah acts or acts of inspiration and generosity?

The Brisker Rav suggests that the mitzvah of “taking a terumah” is to be understood as a communal responsibility to collect all of the private donations, and he bases his suggestion on the words of the Targum in Parshas Vayakhel who translates the word “v’yikchu” to accept or receive.  The Torah is not obligating any particular individual to give to the MIshkan’s cause, as that is left as a matter of personal generosity, but what the Torah is obligating is that the community as a whole receive these private donations and dedicate them to the mishkan’s cause.  Although there are instances where the Torah does legislate donation and requires an individual to give a prescribed amount to the Temple, such as the mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel, the nature of this mitzvah of “taking a terumah” is entirely different, as it directs communal responsibility of taking personal generosity and channeling it towards the Mishkan cause.  What does this mitzvah mean on a practical level?  If it does not obligate the individual, then it must reflect on a certain change that takes place within the donation itself when it is “taken” by the community.  In other words, the mitzvah of “taking a terumah” is about the process of transferring individual money into the communal ownership of the Mishkan’s cause.  Before any of the donations could be used to build the Mishkan, they first had to undergo the process of being “taken” by the community, and “taking a terumah” means more of a transformation than a transmission.   

Given that every person is different, everything we do is highly personal and unique.  Even when two people perform the same outward act, the acts are worlds apart based on approach, attitude, and motivation.  When many people donate towards a common goal, the truth is that the total of all the donations is really a mosaic of all the individual gifts, a disorganized partnership that highlights differences as well as similarities.  “Taking a Termuah” calls for the melting pot approach by first demanding that the donation be given to communal ownership before going to the Mishkan’s cause, and this thereby purges the donations of all personal inflection and provides a pure and single-minded source to use for the Mishkan.  This subtle appreciation has Halachic ramifications, as we find in the Gemara that R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai relates that the Kohanim reasoned that they were exempt from donating to the communal Korban fund.  As a general rule, Mincha flour offerings contain a portion that is eaten, but any flour offering that is brought by a Kohen must  be fully burned on the Mizbeach.  The Kohanim reasoned that if they were to donate to the Korban fund, it would emerge that the communal flour offerings, such as the Omer, Shtei Halechem, and Lechem Haponim, would be partially owned by Kohanim, and this would invalidate them from being eaten!  In order to ensure that these public flour offerings would be eaten, the Kohanim said they were forbidden from donating to the Korban fund.  Interestingly enough, R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai said that the Kohanim were mistaken and they should indeed donate to the Korban fund, but the Gemara does not explain why their line of reasoning was flawed.  If they will donate, how can the public flour offerings be eaten?  The Talmud Yirushalmi simply answers that the Kohanim’s donations do not make that the public flour offerings are partially owned by Kohanim, because all donations are only used after they are transformed to become community owned.  The Kohen is really first giving a present to the “community,” and afterwards the community is using their money to bring a public flour offering.  Public offerings are not offerings of many partners, but rather offerings that belong to the community, and as such, Kohanim’s donations would in no way affect that ability to eat public flour offerings.  In another instance, we find that Chazal were reluctant to accept pricy donations out of the concern that the individual would not, in the words of the Gemara, “give it to the community yafeh yafeh.”  (100% wholeheartedly)  There was once a mother of a Kohen Gadol who make her son a costly shirt to be used for the service, and Chazal wondered whether it could be used based on this concern.  It is not enough for the individual to donate; all individuality must be transformed as well. 

Sun, December 15 2019 17 Kislev 5780