Commentary for Terumah

12 Feb

This week’s parshah begins with God telling Moses to collect materials from the Israelites which will be used for the building of the Tabernacle and its implements. Specifically, Moses is instructed to “speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion; from every person whose heart motivates him to you shall take My portion (Ex. 25:2).”


The Tabernacle was created to serve a communal purpose. It was a place where the sacrifices of all Jews would be accepted, and a place where the High Priest would pray on Yom Kippur for God to judge of all Israelites with mercy, male and female, young and old, from each and every tribe. For that reason, we would think that money and materials for its construction would be collected by tax. We learn in a few weeks that the Tabernacle’s upkeep was paid for this way, so it makes perfect sense that its construction should be paid for this way as well. After all, if everyone gets to use it, then everyone should have to help pay for it.


God’s instructions were very specific, though. When it comes to building the Tabernacle, “let”- don’t force- “them take for Me a portion”- they choose what it is they are giving- “from every person whose heart motivates him to you shall take My portion”- it doesn’t matter how big or small the donation or what the person giving it may have done in the past: anyone who wants to pitch in is allowed to do so.


The Tabernacle’s upkeep was maintained via taxes collected from everyone because maintaining something is easy. Its systems are already functioning and its institutions are already in place. All you have to do is write a quick check and pay your share. Building, on the other hand, requires dedication. It requires an investment of time and effort to determine what is needed and the best plan of action to fulfill those needs.


Upkeep is the maintaining of the status quo, but building is making something become more than it already is. Building is what makes a place into something special. A group of people who come together to build become a community, and through their grit and determination, they leave their mark on that place, each contributing to its specialness.

Building requires heart, and that is not something that can be demanded via levy. That is something that must come from within. “Every person whose heart motivates him” helps to build the Tabernacle, and all of those people made the Tabernacle a special place that helped serve the needs of all of the Israelites.

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