This week's issue has been dedicated by Charles and Medinah Popper, honoring the memory of Medinah's father, Rabbi Samuel Blinder of Albany N.Y. (Yahrzeit: 7 Adar).
PARASHAT TERUMAH 5758
"You shall accept contributions [towards the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)]" (Shemot 25:2)
Three types of contributions are implicit in this verse. One was
the silver half-Shekel that each man gave, from which were molded
the silver bases for the Mishkan's wooden walls. Another was the
silver half-Shekel that each man gave towards the purchase of the
year's public sacrifices. The other was the contribution of
materials for use in the construction of the Mishkan itself.
When Hashem commanded the Jewish People to build a Mishkan, there was an immediate need for a great deal of building materials. This was satisfied by a mass building campaign, which more than satisfied their needs. Entirely aside from the voluntary contributions of various materials, Moshe collected two half-Shekels from each man who was between 20 and 60 of age, to be used for the bases of the walls of the Mishkan and for the purchase of public sacrifices, respectively.
It would seem that the three contributions were meant simply to fill the specific needs that arose with the building of the Mishkan. However, the Maharal of Prague (Gur Arye ad loc.) finds a much deeper significance in the Jews' triple contribution.
The Midrash mentions this analogy only with regard to the *gold* that was donated towards the Mishkan. The Maharal, however, explains that in a broader sense the same theme applies to *all* of the contributions that were given towards the Mishkan.
When the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, their offense was threefold. They sinned with their souls (= thoughts), with their bodies (= actions) and with their possessions (= gold). By mentally *accepting* the Golden Calf as their god, they transgressed a dire sin for which they were worthy of punishment. (In this respect, idol-worship is different from all other sins. A person normally is not punished for *thinking* to sin unless he actually sins. When it comes to idol-worship, however, the principal concern is that one should not to *mentally accept* an idol as his god [Gemara Shabbat 72b and Rashi DH Harei Libo]. Therefore, one is punished even for idolatrous *thoughts*, [as in Kidushin 39b].) When they actually offered sacrifices to the Calf and danced around it, they sinned with their bodies. By giving their gold towards its creation, the Jews sinned with their wealth.
In order to repent in full, they had to rectify all three parts of their sin. This was accomplished through three types of contributions towards the building of the Mishkan. The half-Shekel that they gave towards the public sacrifices was meant to rectify their mental wrongdoing. The sacrificial offering involves sprinkling the lifeblood of the animal (its "soul" -- Devarim 12: 23) on the sides of the altar, and burning parts of it on the fires of the altar. While the sacrifice is being offered, a person repents by coming to the *mental realization* that "it was my soul that should have been taken, and my flesh that should have been burnt, for rebelling against the Creator" (Ibn Ezra, beginning of Vayikra). The half-Shekel that was used for the bases of the Mishkan's walls (= body) was an atonement for the sin of the body. The material (metals, fabric, wood, oil, precious stones) which a person could donate towards the building of the Mishkan (which had no upper or lower limits) was their atonement for sinning with their possessions.
The Maharal further explains that the amounts specified by the Torah for each of the contributions were precisely appropriate.
The Torah (Shemot 30:13) stipulates that the half-Shekel is equal in value to half of 20 "Gerah" coins, or 10 Gerah. According to the Gemara in Nidah (31a), a person is born with 10 physical characteristics (skin, flesh, bones, hair, nails, etc.) and 10 intangible characteristics (sight, hearing, speech, thought, etc.), or attributes of the soul. The ten Gerah which each Jew gave for the sacrificial service, then, correspond to the ten attributes of the soul for which they atoned, while the ten Gerah which they gave for the bases of the Mishkan correspond to the ten attributes of the body, for which *they* atoned. Since all share these attributes of body and soul, each person's contribution was identical.
Each person's donation of material for the Mishkan, though, was not identical. Since some people are wealthier than others, it is only appropriate for each to repent according to their personal wealth. But if so, in what way was it appropriate to have each person contribute to the Mishkan "what he decides to give of his own good grace" (Shemot 25:2)? Since this contribution was meant to atone for their wealth, it would seem more appropriate to have taxed each Jew according to their wealth, with the richer giving more and the poorer giving less!
The fact is, explains the Maharal, that that is exactly what happened. A man's true wealth is not measured by dollars and cents, but by his generosity. No matter how much money a miser has in the bank, he is a poor man. He considers all of his wealth to be basic to his needs; he has no "extra" money around. Since he will not invest his money in Torah and Mitzvot, it is of little true value to him. A generous person, on the other hand, is wealthy. No matter how little he has, it is more than enough for his personal needs. Since he is ready to invest it in Torah and Mitzvot, it is indeed a heavenly gift of wealth. This is what our Sages meant when they said, "Who is a rich man? One who is happy with his lot!" (Avot 4:1).
The Maharal's definition of a person who gives as a "man of wealth" is indeed eye-opening. For one, this suggests a new approach to an age-old question on the wording of a verse at the beginning of this week's Parasha.
Hashem tells Moshe, "Speak to the Jewish People [and tell them that] they should *take* for (alt: from) me a contribution...." Doesn't a person *give* a contribution rather than *take* one? According to the Maharal, the choice of words is very befitting. By giving a larger sum, a person is "taking" more for himself by disclosing that his total assets are actually of greater value.
The Maharal observation that being generous is equivalent to being happy with one's lot clears the path for suggesting a new explanation for a Gemara in Nedarim.
The Rambam writes (in his 8-chapter introduction to Avot, ch. 7) that in order to become a prophet, a person must first have suitable character traits. Citing a Gemara in Nedarim 38a, the Rambam writes that he must be a "wealthy man," which the Rambam translates to mean "happy with his lot." The source for this citation, however, does not seem to be able to sustain this interpretation. The Gemara proves that Moshe was rich, and therefore fit for prophecy, from the fact that Hashem told Moshe to "carve for himself" the tablets of the law, i.e. to keep the valuable shavings of the sapphire Tablets of the Law. Where is contentment evident in that verse?
We may now answer as follows. The Gemara in Nedarim (ibid.)
mentions a *second* teaching. "Hashem originally gave the Torah only to
Moshe and his children, but Moshe was generous and *shared it* with the
People of Israel." Moshe's display of generosity is a sure sign of
contentment, according to the Maharal's definition. This, then, is the way
the Rambam read the Gemara. Moshe was obviously rich since Hashem told him
to "carve [and study] the tablets *for himself*," yet in his generosity
Moshe shared it with the rest of the nation, showing full content with his