Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Terumah
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

In an environment of financial crisis and reduced philanthropy the call for donations issued by Moshe in this week’s parsha is timely if not in essence very challenging. There are many reasons why people do or don’t contribute to charities and educational and social causes. Moshe does not offer any convincing reasons for the necessity of his appeal for monetary help. He represents that it is God’s wish that the people of Israel become a nation of donors, each person according to the donative instinct that resides within his or her heart. The Lord phrases His appeal as being a donation symbolically to God Himself. "Let them take for Me" is the sentence that is used to justify this appeal for donations from the people. Apparently donations are given because of our relations to our Creator and not only because of the justice of causes that require our help. Charity is a commandment of the Torah. It may be a commandment that we can empathize with and claim to understand and appreciate but at the very root of this commandment is the bald fact that we are bidden to imitate our Creator and our definition of God is one of goodness and charity. We are told in the Torah that God is with the widow and the orphans even though we are ignorant as to why He made them widows and orphans. But nevertheless that is our duty to also pursue goodness and charity as the Lord commands us to do. So at the very end of the day charity is an inexplicable commandment.

The reason that there is so much charity in the world is that there is somewhere deep within our consciences and souls a steak of human kindness and goodness. We really wish to be charitable people. That is why the Torah is convinced that everyone will contribute according to the donative intent of one’s own heart and being. It is within the nature of all to be charitable. However since we have freedom of will and choice we can overcome our inner instincts of goodness and become miserly and even cruel towards others and to ourselves as well. Just as there are very base instincts that lurk within us and we possess within ourselves the freedom to overcome and deny them so too does this power of freedom of will and choice allow us to sublimate our good and charitable instincts. There is a well known statement of the rabbis that many people regret being put upon for a charitable contribution and yet feel a deep satisfaction within themselves after they have in fact made that contribution. It is that deep instinct towards being charitable that engenders the satisfaction within a person after having done a charitable deed or having made a charitable contribution. The Torah wishes to encourage our charitable instinct. It therefore resorts to making what is essentially a voluntary act one that becomes mandatory. It is a mechanism to allow the good within us to burst forth from within us. The holy institutions of Israel can only be constructed with the charitable instincts of the Jewish people.
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