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What Really Counts

Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Parshas Terumah begins the series of parshiyos that deal with the process of the construction of the Mishkan. Many materials were needed for its construction, amongst them precious materials such as gold and silver.

"And Hashem said to Moshe saying. Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take for Me a terumah, from each man whose heart will move him shall you take My terumah (i.e. the contributions). And this is the terumah that you shall take from them...(Ex. 25:1-3)."

Rashi notes the different implications of the variant phrasing of the verses. Three times it says to take a contribution from the People; twice the implication is that this contribution is obligatory and one time it implies that it is dependent upon each person's individual desire to give. This, explains Rashi, indicates that there were three different categories of contribution.

There was an obligatory contribution for the silver of the adanim (the heavy sockets that anchored the vertical planks of the Mishkan that constituted the walls thereof), an obligatory contribution for the purchase of korbanos, and one voluntary contribution for the rest of the materials of the Mishkan - each individual according to the generosity of his heart.

This seems very peculiar. How are we to understand that concerning the main structure of the Mishkan, Hashem made it completely voluntary and dependent on each person's generosity regarding how much to contribute?

Perhaps we may suggest the following approach. If a Yeshiva, for example, wants to erect a magnificent building, it's quite possible that many wealthy individuals will be interested in contributing. The reason for this is that the thought of being a partner in creating a striking edifice that will be imposing in its grandeur and majesty, while at the same time housing a prestigious house of Torah, is a prospect that many people can readily relate to and appreciate.

However, when it comes to financing the building's ongoing maintenance, it is often difficult to find people that are happy to contribute. The reason for this is quite simple: there is nothing striking about the fact that there is electricity running through the building's wires or water running through its pipes. That a janitor washes the floors every day is not a fact that provides any immediate sense of magnificence or splendor. These nitty-gritty aspects of ongoing maintenance have a much more behind-the-scenes nature, and as such, can be subject to disregard.

Similarly, there will quite possibly be many people that would be interested in dedicating the "Main Study Hall" or the "Grand Entrance Lobby," but few will be interested in dedicating the electrical room or the janitors' basement supply room. Although these latter aspects of the building are certainly vital to its proper functioning, they lack the external pomp that often provides the interest for significant contributions.

Therefore, there was no need to mandate contributions for the main structure of the Mishkan because the attraction of contributing toward the creation of the beautiful tapestries, the clothing of the Kohanim, and splendidly gorgeous utensils would provide all the impetus necessary to move the People to contribute handsomely. The silver sockets, however, that were located at the very bottom of the Mishkan may not have been as attractive for donors, and therefore needed an obligatory command. Likewise, the sacrifices that are brought on an ongoing basis do not glitter or gleam of silver, turquoise, and gold. So, to fully provide for this aspect of the Mishkan it was necessary to make it obligatory.

Now, regarding this point about the sacrifices, we discover something quite striking.

The People were certainly aware that the whole point of the Mishkan was to have a central place to carry out the service to worship Hashem. And they were certainly aware that this service was to take the form of bringing sacrifices on an ongoing basis. As such, everyone knew that the sacrifices are essentially the focal purpose of the entire Mishkan. Nevertheless, there still may have been some individuals who would lack motivation to contribute properly for the sacrifices, simply for the lack of external "glitter and gleam"!

This is a phenomenon that, as mature, thinking people, we must stop to ponder. Certainly, it behooves a rational-thinking individual to closely analyze this intriguing aspect of human nature.

We all want to experience meaning in life. We all want to feel that our lives carry true significance and purpose. On the other hand, we often find ourselves overly occupied with the externalities of life. By way of illustration: Too often, we find ourselves being more concerned about the look of a frame, and not concerned enough about the actual portrait inside it. Too often, we find ourselves overly concerned with a car's external appearance and not enough concerned with the car's energy efficiency or structural safety. Too often, we find ourselves so wrapped up in snapping that perfect shot to the extent that it distracts us from actually living the moment and enjoying the experience.

What this indicates, is that to uncover the truly meaningful aspects of what we encounter and deal with in life, we must make a deliberate, concerted effort to overcome our tendency to attribute disproportionate significance to external appearances and focus our major concentration and interest on the inner value of the matter at hand.

Doing this will afford us the inestimable ability to properly evaluate each issue and situation; thereby acquiring clarity as to each subject's objective and relative value and how to prioritize varying considerations. This approach to life's journey will certainly, with the help of Hashem, immeasurably aid us to achieve that depth of purpose and meaning for which we all so strongly aspire.

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