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The Value of Giving

Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )

by Eitiel Goldwicht

As a child, my father gifted me 10 dollars for as a reward for extraordinary behavior. He then explained to me the concept of giving one tenth of one’s money to charity. He brought over a charity box and taught me that $1 from the $10 I had just received should be set aside for the needy.

When I gave the dollar my father asked me, “So how much money do you have now?”

“I have $9,” I replied.

“You know how much money you have now? You might lose those $9 you have left, or you may spend them on some candy. But that a one dollar you gave to charity, no one can ever take it away from you. That one dollar is yours forever.”

This helps explain why the Torah uses confusing terminology when teaching the Jewish people about building a Sanctuary for God. “Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering (a donation towards the Mishkan).”1 Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to state that one shall “give a donation” rather than “take a donation”?

The verse is pointing out that when one gives a donation, he is really taking for himself; he is the true benefactor.

The word ‘Teruma’, donation, comes from the root word ‘Ram which means elevated, symbolizing two types of elevations. One being that we are lifting our possessions to a higher cause by donating them, and that that money will forever serve as our merit. Additionally, we ourselves become uplifted through the process of giving. We gain a happier life filled with meaning, which is worth more than the value of anything we can give.

Numerous studies have demonstrated this point. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton found that giving money to others lifted participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves. Additionally, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, saw similar results when she asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks. These findings were despite the participants’ initial prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier than doing for or giving to others.

The Talmud teaches us “When the month of Adar begins, one increases in happiness.”2 It is not clear, however, what one should do on a practical level to increase his happiness.

The answer lies in an ancient Jewish custom that is quoted in the Mishna3, “On the first of Adar they made a public announcement about the shekels”, meaning that this was the first day of collection for the donations made towards the Temple. In Adar we start “taking” charity for the greater good. The action of giving is synonymous with receiving. Indeed, the longest palindrome in the Torah is 'Venatnu' , ‘and they gave’- vav, nun, taf, nun, vav – spelling the same word backwards and forwards, reiterating that it goes both ways; when you give, you are truly the one who receives. What you receive is a profound sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that automatically increases our joy in life

  1. Shemot 25,2
  2. Taanit 29a
  3. Shekalim (1,1)

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