Sermon Terumah 5768 - A Motivated Heart February 9, 2008 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum, PhD
Shabbat Shalom everyone,
A recent New York Times headline reads: "Goggle Works to Torpedo Microsoft Bid for Yahoo". Computer technologies deal with billions worth in "contributions" to construct a partnership in this world-wide transaction. Which company will contribute what? How much? What are the banks willing to give? Are stockholders bidding? Who has the deepest pockets?
In the Book of Exodus, today's Biblical chapter is called Terumah. In Hebrew, the word "Terumah" meanscontribution. Contributions, mergers, and pooling of resources aren't only significant in 2008, but have played a role in civilization and its development. For example, in the opening Terumah lines, G-d requests contributions for the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, the temporary spiritual structure of worship that was constructed in the wilderness - the portable, traveling shul on wheels. This Mishkan preceded the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Torah wording, G-d instructed Moses to tell the community to offer contributions: "From every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take my portion." (Exodus 25:1).
Let us concentrate on the word "Heart". Why? First of all, the heart is the focus of much fanfare and gifts this week. February is National Heart Month and the symbol of the big red heart is seen and highlighted in advertisements, gifts, roses, and romantic messages. Although, the Valentine holiday is not based on Jewish heritage, there are some interesting heart stirring messages about love and feelings that G-d is trying to convey in our Torah portion. We understand physiologically that the heart within each of us, beats nonstop, assuring our bodily survival. So, what does it mean: "to have a motivated heart?" Is it possible to contribute insincerely or without emotional attachment? Yes. But, G-d does not want a gift to be part of the holy tabernacle if it is contrived or given begrudgingly. Motivation for giving a contribution needs to come from a place of love and generosity. Willingly. Happily. Proudly. Honestly. From a warm heart. No arm twisting. No hidden agendas. No strings attached. You give because it is pleasing and BETTERING THE WORLD. It is good for your spiritual and physical well-being. Essentially, it is a privilege to contribute. It is also a commandment, which brings holiness into the UNIVERSE.
It is praiseworthy to give with the right attitude. The Talmudic rabbis wrote, "Our kind deeds and our generous gifts go to heaven as messengers, and plead for us before our heavenly father." Additionally, our sages tell us, it is our benevolent hearts that G-d desires. We have many traditional and wise sayings related to the heart. For example, "G-d is close to the broken-hearted." The Talmud states, "where my heart leads, my feet will follow." Or, "One who delights in the Sabbath receives his heart's desires." The sages also warn:" A transgression hardens the heart" and "Heartache is the most painful of aches."
So, we are well-advised to give with a big heart. Gold, silver, copper, wood, beautiful colors and materials are items of value and dignity. Nevertheless, the Almighty says, that they are not wanted unless they are given from the heart. The value of riches is diminished unless the heart rejoices.
As we continue reading, the exquisite beauty of the Mishkan, its accessories and its surroundings are explained in detail. To think that these architectural guidelines were received and followed in the desert are nothing less than miraculous. The entire process happened approximately 3,300 years ago, without a Home Depot! Imagine the magnitude and splendor of its construction. A project conceived and carried out with love. Each and every detail designed straight from the heart! Isn't this the ideal way to carry out any of our projects in life? In our daily prayers, we are asked to love G-d with all our soul, all our heart, and all our resources. Stinginess and greed are the antithesis to these Jewish values. In the early 19th century, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said: "it is good to give charity before praying" and that "assisting the needy saves us from sadness, laziness and pride."
The concept of "give and take" can be interpreted in different ways. (Avot )
Some believe: What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours.
Others hold, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. And then there are some, who truly believe, what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is all mine too!
I'm sure you know all these types.
I remember walking in Jerusalem when I was a young teenager and being approached by a man asking for charity. When I gave him the coins in my pocket, I said "Thank you, I really needed a mitzvah." His big smile indicated that I had not compromised his dignity. The experience taught me that sensitivity and diplomacy, when helping others, is very important.
How much do we give? Our Torah gives us an exact formula. We are commanded to give a tithing, which is 10% of our earnings. More is always encouraged, but less is not in the spirit of Jewish law.
Moreover, there are eight levels of charity, according to Maimonides, the renowned Rabbi, doctor, and philosopher of the 12th century.
1. The greatest level is to strengthen another person. This can be done by advancing credit or a loan. It can also be by securing employment to enable self-sufficiency. Our Torah states: "You shall strengthen the stranger and the dweller in your midst and live with him."
2. The next level is giving anonymously. The donor doesn’t know who the recipient is nor does the recipient know his benefactor.
3. The next lower level is knowing who the recipient is, but the recipient does not know his benefactor.
4. Then, there is giving anonymously where the recipient does not know the benefactor, and therefore can avoid being embarrassed.
5. Below this is where one gives to the needy before being asked.
6. Below this is where one gives to the needy after being asked.
7. The second lowest level is where one gives less then one’s ability to the needy, gladly with a smile.
8. The lowest level is where one gives to the needy unenthusiastically.
May we have the "saichel" to understand that giving is measured by G-d in the joy attached to our contributions. Contributions can be money, time, ideas, advice or opportunities. May we be blessed with "Nachas" generated by contributing with our motivated hearts and may Kneseth Israel Synagogue, our modern day tabernacle, be the recipient of your goodwill and generosity.
Copyright Moshe P. Weisblum, All Rights Reserved.
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