“You Shall Accept Gifts for Me from every Person whose Heart so Moves him” (Shemot 25:3)
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
It is written in the beginning of this week’s parashah: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Shemot 25:2-3).
The main goal of these gifts is: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Shmot 25:8).
One question that could be asked from this verse is: Why did God ask for gifts from the people “whose hearts so moves them”? What would have happened if there weren’t enough people who wanted to donate and build the Mishkan (traveling sanctuary)? Why didn’t God command the people of Israel to make donations for this important building? Does he really need their gold or silver?
One explanation might be found in the Chumash Etz Chaim, where it quotes a commentary of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. The word Terumah, (gift, offering) comes from a root meaning to “elevate.” It originally referred to the physical act of lifting up that which was being offered. It can also imply that the act of offering a gift to God elevates the donor to a higher level.
Therefore, we may say that God didn’t want to obligate the people of Israel to donate because He preferred to let them do this action freely themselves and have the opportunity to elevate their spirituality by giving their Terumah.
We can relate a second explanation for God’s actions to the way children usually behave. We know as parents that when children do things because they have to do them, they usually are not happy to do them. God wanted the people of Israel to make their donations for the Mishkanwith joy and happiness, thinking that it is a very important mission. God wanted to give the people of Israel the freedom to decide if they wanted to donate or not.
Regarding the question if God needed those materials, there is an interesting explanation. Last week we read that the people of Israel said with one voice after listening to God’s commandments: “All the things that the LORD has commanded we will do!” (Sh’mot 24:3). Maybe, to test the seriousness of their pledge, God ordered: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts.” By their readiness to give, God shall find out if they meant what they said. That request also served as a way to convert the people from passive participants in their relationship with God, into active partners.
Finally, related tothis subject, you can find a tip for fundraising programs. The goal presented by God was very clear: It was to raise gifts in order to build the Mishkan. We can say that God knew that when people have a common goal to achieve, a project that they consider very useful and relevant for the benefit of all in the group, it must be a success.
In fact, we can find in Parashat Vayiakel (we will read it in three weeks) that it was a real success. There it is written: “All the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came… and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done” (Shemot 36:4-5).
Nowadays, it is very unusual to hear in Jewish communities that people contribute more donations than what is needed. Maybe we should learn from God’s lesson in this parashah!
I hope we have the wisdom and grace to give from our hearts for sacred projects that are relevant for the continuity of the Jewish people as our ancestors did during their journey in the desert.