What drives the heart?

In chapter 6:6-8 of Micah, the prophet asks a profound question: “With what shall I appear before the Lord, and bow down before the Most High God?”

The question is, as a mere mortal what can I offer the Eternal? Doesn’t the verse in Tehillim, Psalms 146:6 say about the Eternal “Who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything in them”?

So, if the Eternal created everything visible, physical and material, what can we possibly give him, why should we give, and, above all, to whom do we give?

This portion, Terumah (offering/gifting) occurs after the error or sin of the golden calf but here, it is written as a previous event. It is full of symbolism and the instruction of the Eternal to have a physical habitation in this material world where He would dwell among the people who had expressed their desire to “do and obey his words.”

In Hebrew, the word “give” is natan (נתן) and interestingly, this word can be read either left to right or right to left, signifying that when it comes to giving, no matter from what direction, it always counts. It is noteworthy that they would be using 15 materials to build the Mishkan. Fifteen in Gematria is Yud Hei י ה 10+5, which directs us to Yah, God.  Although it seems to focus on the material items, it is more about the relationship being built between God and His people for a purpose.

The Parashah begins with: Daber el benei Yisra’el vayikchu-li trumah me’et kol-ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et trumati  “דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃” “Speak to the children of Israel so that they set aside an offering for Me; from every man whose heart urges him to do so, you will take an offering for Me.” Here we find the answer to our three previous questions – what, why and to whom do we give?

The central theme is from The First Commandment which says: “I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage…” This implies that we are now people to whom the Eternal has given us the greatest gift of all: bechirah chofshit, free will. Our rabbi, RANEBI often repeated this phrase, free will is the ability to decide. It’s the greatest gift that the Eternal has given to man, and possibly, not the most valued. Unlike the golden calf, which was imposed and in which the people were obliged, here the Eternal wants us to exercise this greatest gift: our right to decide.

Shemot 32:2 says, “And Aaron said to them: Take off the rings that are in the ears of your wives and of your sons and your daughters and bring them to me.” This implies that they had no choice but to bring something, almost as if they were assaulted.   Do we see any option of choice in the verbs “Take off and bring them to me? Apparently not.

When the people saw that Moshe was not coming down from the Mountain, I imagine that they almost lynched Aaron and took away his free will when they told him: “Get up and make gods for us to go before us.” Was there any option of choice with the verbs “get up and make?”

Of course, today, it´s easy for us to say that Aaron should have “stood up and said NO” probably making him a martyr, or when Aaron requested the rings, someone could have stood up and said: “No, I will not take off my family’s earrings” or even have told Aaron “No, I will not take them to you.” For me, it’s quite clear that fear overtook their minds, making them slaves of their thoughts which led them to commit such a mistake.

Parashat Terumah occurs after the golden calf incident, and the beautiful thing about this is that God forgave that generation. He first covered their error by elevating them for their generosity, but then He showed their mistake to all the world. It is like speaking well of someone who made mistakes in his past; the important thing in his life is not what he has done wrong, but who he is today, especially when he does Teshuvah. God is so wonderful in giving us an antidote to idolatry: Terumah.

So, God plans to dwell among everyone, but based on what? On our free choice. The calf is born out of slavery and the relationship with the Eternal out of our desire to be with Him. How do we fulfill it? In the verb SEPARATE FOR ME FROM EVERYONE WHO HAS THE WILLINGNESS TO DO SO.

The calf made from their gold earrings had a high value that not everyone could afford. But we also read that God gave them materials of different values which they had already received from the Egyptians as compensation for their slavery so that no one would be excluded. Shemot 12:35 – 36 says: “Then, following the instructions that Moses had given, they asked the Egyptians to give them objects of gold and silver, and also clothing. The Lord made the Egyptians look favorably on the Israelites, so they gave them everything they asked for.”

From this, we learn that we can never say to the Eternal, “You have not given me anything.” From the moment we have received His breath of life, we at least have this breath within us. In the same way, unlike other beliefs that ask for offerings or tithes for the future, we can see that the Eternal does not ask us for anything that He has not already provided for us.  Otherwise, what kind of a God would He be? An unjust one. Therefore, if God asks us for something, it is because He has already given it to us.

Exercising the will and being aware that nothing is ours, but that everything comes from Heaven, leads us to the next point: Generosity. Generosity is not only for the present but also for the future. According to our sages, after Yaakov was shown the end of time, he had acacia trees planted 210 years before that moment. In that sense, we will not see the fruit of our generosity in our day, but our children will enjoy it. This leads me to the idea that we should not give based on others, such as: “if so-and-so gives, then I will give”, or if “so-and-so gave $10, then I will give $10, if he gives $5, I will give $5”. Our generosity must stem from our freedom and our heart to give, not based upon what society does or does not do, expecting something in return or only if we’re in the ideal situation for giving. Giving must be free and like the case of Yaakov, where he didn’t know if his “acacia forest” would be used in the future by his descendants.

To whom do we give? To God? If that’s how we think, then God would laugh at us. We give for us, for our well-being, and our community. With generosity, through freedom of decision, the Shechinah manifests itself. He says in 25:8 “Ve’asu li mikdash veshachanti b’tocham.” וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם “And make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.” What a joy! He does not say, “And I will dwell in the Mishkan.” This verse begins in the singular form but ends in the plural. The Sanctuary, therefore, was not God’s dwelling place. Shlomo, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived said: “But is it possible, my God, for you to dwell on the earth? If the heavens, no matter how high, cannot contain you, how much less this temple that I have built!” The Mishkan is not a container for the Eternal. David said in Tehillim 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it; The world and those who dwell therein.” So, the Mishkan was not for the Eternal. It was for us to focus our attention on Him, so that we dwell focused on Him together and that He would manifest Himself among us.

When each of us gives (singular) for the Mishkan, then the Eternal manifests Himself in the community. There is a very profound Hebrew phrase, which says: “Kol Israel arevim zeh la zeh, all Israel is responsible for one another.” This is not the time to ask ourselves rhetorical questions like Cain’s: “Am I responsible for my brother?” We must act freely, with generosity (tzedakah) to seek the common good.

It would be a mistake for us to think that this is limited to economic issues. We read in the next books of the Torah that everyone helped build the Mishkan; everyone contributed, some gave money, others gave materials, some contributed with their intelligence, others with their artistic abilities; some were carpenters, others were builders, etc. It gave them a purpose of being useful toward something that elevated them. It is through service to the Eternal that we rise. The altar where the offerings were burned had an incline that made them elevated, in other words, the act of giving elevates us and makes us grow.

My prayer on this Shabbat is that we are free to enjoy the gift of choice, that we are generous and not poor in our minds as we give and contribute to others, and that the Presence of the Eternal resides among us so that we can live full and rich lives.

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero