Parshat Terumah: Exodus 25:127:19; I Kings 5:26-6:13
Moses not only served as the rabbi of the Israelites, but he also did the fundraising, collecting the gold, silver, copper … for the construction and upkeep of the Sanctuary.
There is, however, one difficult phrase in our biblical portion. God commands Moses to tell the children of Israel to “take” gift offerings for the Sanctuary; ought not the proper verb be to “give” gift offerings for the Sanctuary?
The expected verbal usage is that the donor “gives” gifts and the recipient “takes.”
I once heard that the individual donor must first give his gift to the gizbar or treasurer of the Sanctuary; the treasurer represents the entire Knesset Yisrael (congregation of Israel), accepting the gift-offering on their behalf. The donor then takes the gift which no longer belongs to him but rather to communal Israel and presents it to the Sanctuary on behalf of “Israel entire.”
What made Moses such a successful fundraiser? Rabbi Yosef Yoizl of Navardok founded 180 yeshivot in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. He had a student who fell short of his yeshivah’s standards, and he gently insisted that he leave. Another rosh yeshivah accepted the student to his institution. This time, he barely made the grade, but not long afterwards, left the yeshivah and went on to become a very wealthy businessman. Rav Yosef Yoizl visited with his former student and received a gift of 1 million rubles to open another yeshivah.
When the rosh yeshiva who had taken in the failed student came to visit his former pupil, he had extremely high expectations of the gift he would receive, but he only got 18 rubles. He bitterly complained, to which he received the following reply: “When Rav Yosef Yoizl visited me, he showed disdain for my fine furniture, and he spoke of Torah learning as the highest value. Through his presence, my money lost all value for me; I gladly gave him a million rubles. But when you entered my home, I saw how your eyes glowed in amazement at my expensive furniture. You called me by the honorific title “reb” — certainly not because of my Torah knowledge. In your presence, my money gained in value, and so I could barely part with 18 rubles!”
Moses had no interest in the gold, silver or precious stones. He understood that the material objects were only a means to inspire to ultimate values of spirituality.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.