Parashat Terumah

Give And Take

The fundraising campaign to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) teaches us that in true Tzedakah, the giver benefits as much as the taker.

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God, in asking this of Moses, seems to understand the difficulty of the task. And so the language of the request is very precise. God asks the Israelites to "take" for Me Terumah. An interesting choice of words. Can you "take" a freewill offering? It really means that the Israelites should "give" a gift for the construction of the Tabernacle. But instead it says they should "take."

Rashi seems to connect the use of the verb "take" to the specific type of offering being requested. Terumah is defined as a "heave offering;" a special type of offering that is to be "set apart." Therefore it is the individual himself who "takes" the offering voluntarily from his own possessions and designates it as a sacred gift.

But a Yiddish folktale gives another perspective on the difference between "giving" and "taking."

"Yankel the Cheapskate" would not give money to anyone, for any reason. It didn't matter how important the cause. No one could crack him. He just wouldn't contribute. One day, Yankel was crossing the river in a small boat. Suddenly, a huge storm breaks out, and his boat capsizes. Luckily, another boat approached. The sailor calls out to him: "Give me your hand. Give me your hand."

Yankel can barely hear him over the strong winds and the roaring waves. He hears only one word, over and over: "Give, Give..."

And good old Yankel can't help himself. He yells back: "No. I don't give. I don't give."

Again: "Yankel, give me your hand! Give me your hand." And again Yankel screams: "Never. I don't give."

Finally, in desperation, the rescuer yells: "Yankel, take my hand." And Yankel says: "Oh, take? Sure."

Jewish tradition teaches us that giving--Tzedakah--the opportunity to help others--is just that: an opportunity. It is a privilege that benefits us as much as the ones to whom we give. Therefore there is really little difference between giving and taking. Every time we give--we are really taking.

There is an old folk saying: "A fool gives and a wise person takes." The wise person realizes that it is he who benefits most from his action of giving. This is the difference between charity and Tzedakah. In charity, we give, and it is a one way street. With Tzedakah, we are actually obligated to give, everyone, equally. It is an act of righteousness. If everyone gives, then we benefit from living in a society where everyone's needs are met, and none are in need. To live in such a society benefits all. To live in such a society is a privilege. And for all that we give, we benefit much more.

Dvar Aher

Take for me an offering (Exodus 25:2).
King Solomon says, Take my rebuke, and not money (Proverbs 8:10). This means that a person should take Torah's words of rebuke to heart, rather then simply amass wealth. Through the Torah one can possess this world and the next, while material possessions lead to nothing but worry and aggravation. (Tz'enah Ur'enah)

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.