I think that we can all agree that it is difficult and challenging to part with one’s wealth on behalf of an altruistic cause that will bring to the donor no immediate discernible physical profit or gain. Human beings are very possessive when it comes to money. Money and territorial rights are two main issues that have existed throughout the ages regarding disputes between individuals and even nations.
Heaven therefore placed a great burden on our teacher Moshe when it required him to ask the Jewish people to part with their wealth in large sums, to build a holy Tabernacle, the benefits of which the people could and would be measurable only in spiritual and eternal terms. In fact, the verse in the Torah regarding the necessity to contribute to the building of that Tabernacle can be understood as requiring that the donor, to fulfill that commandment, must donate part of one’s own heart to this cause.
For too many people, material wealth is really the heart of life and one does not part with it easily or joyfully. Though society generally disrespects and even abhors stinginess and miserly behavior in others, truth be said, within all of us lies the seeds of such behavior. Instinctively, humans want to retain what they think they already have, and they want to possess more of the world than they currently own or control.
We come into this world with clenched fists ready to grab everything that we can. Only at the very end, are our fists open, and our fingers fully extended to indicate that we really possess nothing of this physical world in which we have devoted so much of our time and efforts.
There are many reasons as to to why the building of the Tabernacle should occupy such an important part in the biblical narrative of the Torah. One such idea is that the inherent difficulty to give away what one has personally achieved is of such a nature that the Torah recorded for us the building of the Tabernacle in a long, detailed fashion. It is as though the Torah is emphasizing to us the difficulty involved in having to donate towards the construction of even the most glorious and noble of causes.
And, if it is difficult, as it certainly is, to give of one’s own wealth towards a charitable cause, it is even more difficult to ask others to do so. The Talmud told us that the one that causes charitable causes to be financed and advanced by others through their donations, is greater even than the donor. We are all reluctant to ask others to part with their wealth no matter how noble the cause that we are representing. Therefore, the Torah reading of this week really speaks to us and to our continuing challenges as individuals and as a society.
Rabbi Berel Wein