As the old military joke goes: "Okay, I need a volunteer. You, you and you!"
Much has been made of what the Torah says in this weeks parasha about how the wealth of materials needed to build the mishkan was acquired. "You shall accept gifts from any person whose heart so moves him. (Shemot 25:2, JPS)
It's somewhat hard to imagine anyone out there in the wilderness who would not be so moved-whether out of sincere love for Gd, out of fear Gd, of awe and respect for Gd, for selfish motivation, or even simple peer pressure.
So, in a way, Gd had a captive crowd. Saying that the t'rumah was voluntary was somewhat unnecessary, n'est ce pas?
On the other hand, we Jews have such a history of recalcitrant behavior, that its quite plausible, perhaps even likely, that some cheapskates refused to part with even a small part of their wealth (even acquired, as it was, as a spoil of Egypt.) But this being the case, would simply telling the people to give as their heart moved them to so do fall on deaf ears and stone hearts?
Rashi tells us these words are there so that we may understand that the giving asked for here must be the kind that is simply out of respect for Gd, and not motivated by selfish goals or seeking recognition. But the plain fact is, giving is giving. Even Rambam, with his qualitative analysis of the relative virtues of giving based on differing motivations or end results recognizes that the mitzvah of righteous behavior, even done minimally or selfishly, remains a mitzvah. The rabbis tell us that even a mitzvah fulfilled begrudgingly is a mitzvah fulfilled. The rabbis were great pragmatists, when it suited them.
So, too, are we. We adorn our buildings and sanctuaries with names, plaques, and all sorts of recognition. Our tax system rewards charitable giving-and this often becomes a prime motivator for such giving. Amateur and professional fundraisers alike "guilt" us into fulfilling the mitzvah of supporting our congregations and Jewish institutions and charities. And we comply.
But when was the last time you actually gave something that was of great value to yourself as a gift to Gd, t'rumah, as it were, solely because you heart moved you to do so? Don't count the gift if, at any time, you thought "as a Jew I am obligated..." because that is a motivation of the head, not the heart. The true gift of the heart is given without thought. That is what it means to take Gd's commandments into your heart. To give t'rumah not because you thought about it, but because your internal makeup simply compels you to do so.
I'm not talking about giving to your congregation, or the local JCC, or Mazon, or Lifeline for the Aged, or NACOEJ, et al, worthy as they are. I'm talking about real t'rumah - a gift you give that you cannot help giving. And I'm hoping that we have all experienced such moments. And hoping further that we can all learn to make these moments more frequent in our lives.
To do so requires but one thing: to love Gd so much that you can do no less than love all of Gd's creations, and offer yourself and your gifts to Gd and to them all. But then, we already know all this, don't we?
But we fail to believe with perfect faith. And I am as guilty as the next person. I say to myself that I simply can't support every charity that asks. Rational, but also a rationalization. If my faith were perfect, I would not doubt that my good actions would see their reward. Yet not even Moshe rabbeinu's faith was perfect, so why berate ourselves for similar imperfection?
Where does this leave us? The same place Torah always takes us. With impossible goals that we must continually strive toward. And to get there-you gotta wanna.
© 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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