Rabbi Frand on Parshas Terumah
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #318: Taking Out Two Sifrei Torah.
What Was Wrong With The Offer Of The Princes?
The pasuk [verse] in Parshas Vayakhel says “And the Princes brought the Shoham stones and the Miluim stones for the Ephod and for the Choshen” [Shmos 35:27]. Rashi cites a famous teaching of our Sages that when it came time for everyone to donate for the Mishkan [Tabernacle], the Princes — very generously — offered to make up the deficit, after everyone else brought their contributions. According to Rashi, the Torah was unhappy with this offer. As a result, the word Nesiim [Princes] is spelled defective — without the letter ‘Yud’ — as a punishment for their lack of enthusiasm (zerizus) to participate in the mitzvah of donating to the Mishkan.
If one were to query any fundraiser as to whether he would be pleased or displeased to receive an offer such as that made my the Princes, undoubtedly he would be thrilled at such an offer. He would certainly snap at the opportunity to have someone guarantee any shortfall that remained after the collection effort was concluded. Yet, the Torah was upset at the attitude of the Princes. What was wrong with their offer?
In this week’s Parsha (Terumah), the Torah says “Speak to the Israelites and have them take to me an offering. From every man whose heart impels him, you shall take my offering.” [Shmos 25:2]. All the commentaries explore the peculiar expression used in this pasuk — “take to me” (yikchu li) rather than the more normal “give to me” (yitnu li).
Many commentaries explain that when one gives to a Mishkan — or, for that matter, when one gives to any Torah institution, or helps out another person — he is not really ‘giving’, he is ‘taking’. More precisely, he is taking more than he is giving. “There are many agents of G-d” (Harbeh Shluchim l’Makom). G-d has His ways. One way or another, the institution or the person in need will survive. The only question is whether the donor will have the merit of being the agent of G-d. Therefore, the donor should realize that when he gives charity in any form, he is taking more than he is giving. That is why there is no such thing as a ‘deficit’ to the Master of the Universe. That is why the attitude of the Princes was so wrong.
Fiscally, it may have been a great idea, but attitudinally it was a horrible concept. What were they thinking when they raised the issue of ‘deficit’? Did they think that the Mishkan might not be built without their coming to the rescue? That was flawed thinking. G-d has no deficits. G-d did not need their help to build the Mishkan. If the Princes wanted a portion of merit in the building the Mishkan, they should have enthusiastically jumped in and offered their donations up front.
This idea is underscored by another teaching of our Sages — an idea that we tend to forget in tough economic times: More than the wealthy person does for the poor person, the poor person does for the wealthy person [Vayikra Rabbah 34]. G-d provides for the needs of all. Most institutions will somehow survive and so too most poor people will somehow persevere. A person, who wishes to share in the merit and TAKE part in the reward of that merit, will jump in and contribute. The poor person’s ability to transform a donor into a generous, compassionate, sensitive person, who has proper character traits, far exceeds that which the donor can do for the poor person. It is not so much that we have to worry about the poor. G-d will take care of the poor. We must worry about ourselves – and try to gain from the poor that which they have to bestow upon us.
The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) had a Yeshiva in Radin. A philanthropist came and offered to underwrite the entire budget of the Yeshiva. The Chofetz Chaim declined the offer. The Chofetz Chaim said that he did not want to remove the merit of supporting the Yeshiva from the rest of the Jewish people. This is a true story! The Chofetz Chaim said that he would rather run an institution that had to rely on $18 and $36 dollar donations because he wanted everyone to have a portion in the merit of supporting the institution. He therefore looked at a man who was willing to underwrite his entire budget and told him “Thanks, but no thanks”, since the concept of “They shall TAKE a donation” taught that by G-d there are no deficits.
Now we can understand why specifically the ‘Yud’ was removed from the spelling of Nesiim (Princes). The spelling of Nesiim when it is written with a Yud is based on the form of the root ‘naso’ (uplift) which means “those who carry”. When the Yud is removed, the word Nesiim is based on the form of that root which means “those who are carried”. This was the lesson that G-d was trying to teach the princes: “You think that you are going to carry the Mishkan. On the contrary, the Mishkan will carry you”.
The following true incident occurred with Rav Eliezer Gordon (1840-1910), the founder of the Telshe Yeshiva. He married the daughter of Rav Avrohom Yitzchak Neviezer. Rav Leizer Gordon had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most outstanding young men in the Jewish nation. When he became engaged, his father-in-law told him that he would support him. In those days, the son-in-law used to live in the father-in-law’s house. That is how Rav Leizer Gordon was supported.
One community after another approached Rav Leizer Gordon and asked him to become their Rabbi. Every time a community approached him regarding becoming their Rav, he would ask his father-in-law for permission to take the position. Invariably, his father-in-law insisted that he remain with him, sitting and learning. His father-in-law told him not to worry, promising to continue to support him. This happened year after year. Finally, the mother- in-law told her husband “It is already time to have our son-in-law move on. We can not support him here forever.” Her husband replied, “We never know, who is supporting whom”.
Eventually, Rav Gordon took a position and became a community Rabbi. The day after he left his father-in-law’s house, his father-in-law passed away. We never know who supports whom — who is the “carrier” and who is being “carried”. Rav Leizer Gordon was supporting his father-in-law, not the other way around. G-d has no deficits.
It is a MERIT to participate in giving charity. If one deserves the merit, he will have that privilege.
The Best Merchandise Belongs To The Student of Torah
There is a Medrash Tanchuma on this week’s parsha that relates the following incident. The Medrash is brought in connection with the pasuk “For I have given you a good item (lekach tov), do not forsake my Torah” [Mishlei 4:2].
There was a Torah scholar riding on a boat with many businessmen. They all had their wares with them. They asked the Torah scholar, “Where is your merchandise?” The Torah scholar responded, “My merchandise is better than yours.” They searched throughout the boat and could find nothing. They began to mock him.
Pirates attacked the boat. They robbed and plundered all that was on the boat. Everyone was left destitute. When they arrived at the port and entered the country, they were all ‘in the same boat’ – without any merchandise to sell.
The Talmid Chochom [Torah scholar] entered the Beis Medrash and began lecturing. People recognized that he was a great scholar. They treated him with honor and asked that he become their Rabbi, promising him a large salary. This Talmid Chochom was now secure. All of a sudden, the businessmen who had made fun of him on the boat asked him to put in a good word for them with the townspeople. The Talmid Chochom responded, “I told you that my ‘merchandise’ was better than your ‘merchandise’. Your goods can be lost and destroyed; but mine are preserved.”
The Medrash concludes that this is the meaning of the pasuk, “For I have given you a good item, do not forsake my Torah”. [As in the (Yiddish) song, "Torah is de beste Sechora” (Torah is the best business).]
This Medrash has a lesson for all of us. Besides all the tremendous advantages of sitting and learning, of establishing fixed times for Torah study, of the spiritual pleasure that Torah provides to people, there is one other thing about Torah that people must start considering. Everybody plans for retirement. Everyone has their IRAs and their 401K plans and pension programs, and so forth. G-d willing, there will come a day when we will not need to go to work. So what will be then? Torah is the best business.
One who wants to plan for his retirement should “get into” learning. One who is in learning will always have something. He will always have the ‘business’ of Torah. A person may become rich or poor; he may have friends or lose them. But there is one thing that he will always have — Torah! Torah can never be taken away from him!
A Jew once came to the Sefas Emes (1847-1905). He was a widower who had just lost his wife. He had been married for decades and now he complained to the Sefas Emes, “Rebbe, I’m lonely.” The Sefas Emes told him “When a Jew has a page of Talmud, he is never alone.” This is a very penetrating observation. A person can be stripped of his money, of his family, but never of his Gemara. This is the parable of the businessmen and the Talmud Chochom in the Medrash. The best wares belong to the student of Torah.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Teruma are provided below:
- Tape # 044 – Changing Nusach: Ashkenaz vs. Sephard
- Tape # 087 – Microphone on Shabbos.
- Tape # 135 – Living Above a Shul
- Tape # 182 – Davening Towards Mizrach
- Tape # 228 – Selling a Shul
- Tape # 272 – Chazakah B’Mitzvos: Is This Maftir Yonah Mine?
- Tape # 318 – Taking Out Two Sifrei Torah
- Tape # 362 – The Mechitza — How High?
- Tape # 406 – Shul Elections
- Tape # 450 – Bais Hakeneses & Bais Hamikdash — Differences & Similarities
- Tape # 494 – Bima in the Center of the Shul
- Tape # 538 – Preventing the Building of a Shul
- Tape # 582 – Silk in Halacha
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