Contributing to the Tabernacle

There are two commandments in the opening passage to Parashat Terumah. The first commands the Jewish people to take a contribution, and the second, to construct the Tabernacle and its vessels.

At first glance, the commandment to construct the Tabernacle appears to be the principle commandment. Yet, the order of the verses suggests the opposite. First comes the commandment “You shall take a contribution for Me,” followed by the details of all the materials contributed to the Tabernacle, “Gold and silver and copper…” The commandment to construct the Tabernacle, “You shall make a sanctuary for Me,” appears in a later verse. This order suggests that there is inherent significance in the contribution that the Jewish people were commanded to bring.

The Upward Aspiration

God is omnipotent. It is difficult to understand why He desires anything from us. But, the sages teach us that His purpose in creating us was “to make a dwelling place for Him in the lower worlds.” This is why He commanded us to construct the Tabernacle. From our limited human perspective, we can sympathize with the idea that God wants a “home.” Obviously, this is an important commandment that we need to accomplish “for God,” as it were.

We might think that the commandment to bring a contribution is just a means to achieving the final result, to make a sanctuary “for God.” Without the gold, silver, and copper etc., how could we build the altar, the foundations that held the boards, or the wash-basin? Commenting on the verse, “You shall take a contribution for Me,” the Zohar (quoted in the Tanya) makes a cryptic statement. “For Me” means that by giving a contribution we are taking God Himself! What can this mean?

The angels described in Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot are in a constant movement of “run and return” (רָצוֹא וָשׁוֹב). Chassidut teaches us that “run and return” pertains to our human souls, too. The soul oscillates like an alternating electric current, in an infinite up-down movement. It runs thirstily towards its Heavenly source in God and then returns to mundane reality, bouncing upwards and down once again, ad infinitum.

Raising a contribution to the Tabernacle is an example of the upward “run” (רָצוֹא) of the soul. “Contribution” (תְּרוּמָה) is derived from the verb “to elevate” (לְהָרִים). By giving away a part of our livelihood, earned by the sweat of our brows, to a worthy cause, we raise ourselves Heavenwards in self-sacrificial devotion.

While “running” (רָצוֹא), the vector force points upwards, aspiring to reach God. The soul runs and rises towards infinity. This is an elevated level that is above all of the created worlds and above all of God’s Holy Names; to God’s personal essence, “For Me.”

The upward run is important, as long as it begins with the intention to return to mundane reality, where we can reveal God’s purpose.

If the soul runs to the infinite, it will be eventually be nullified in its source. Like a raindrop in the ocean, it can never be identified again. This is the greatest pleasure that the soul could ever aspire to! Yet, as we rise in our upward run we “bump into” God, who has another purpose in store for the soul. He tells us, “Return to your place!” This brings us back to the second commandment in Parashat Terumah, “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I shall dwell within them.” Rising to the heights of spirituality, almost sacrificing our souls in the process, God tells us to take Him with us on the return journey. Our ultimate contribution to building the Tabernacle is God Himself.

The Heart and the Fountain

“For Me” (לִי) is spelled with two letters, a lamed and a yud. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that lamed (ל) represents lower wisdom and yud (י) represents higher wisdom. The letter lamed (ל) is the tallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It is “a tower soaring in the air,” that aspires to reach infinity. Yet, its feet are on the ground. Its name, lamed (לַמֵד), means “learning” (לִמוּד). The yud (י) is the smallest letter. It descends from above and remains hovering in the air. Its form resembles a point, symbolizing the pin-point of inspiration that flashes into the mind from the source of wisdom.

These two types of wisdom are exemplified in the teacher-student relationship. The lamed represents the student’s heart aspiring to internalize his teacher’s words. The yud (י) represents the teacher, who must present his teachings in a way that will inspire his student with wisdom. Without the student’s aspiration, the teacher cannot hope to inspire him. The order of this relationship between the student’s lamed (ל) and the teacher’s yud (י) forms the word “for Me” (לִי).

Elsewhere in his writings, Rebbe Nachman relates a parable of “The Heart and the Fountain.” Somewhere in the world is a heart that longs to reach the fountain. The fountain also longs to reach the heart. Despite their longing for one another, making the connection is no simple matter. The heart is the student who greatly thirsts after the fountain of wisdom.” The fountain is the teacher who wishes to bestow his wisdom upon his student. The heart and the fountain unite when the lamed and the yud form the word “for Me” (לִי).

Connecting the two words, “for Me” (לִי) alludes to the teaching, “Every palate that tastes it [the wine of the Torah] says, ‘[It’s] for me! [It’s] for me!’” The Torah is the fine wine that flows from the teacher and inspires the student, satisfying his yearning.

Parashat Terumah begins with the commandment for every generous heart to raise its contribution. Like the student’s lamed, “lower wisdom,” we must first aspire to reach up to God by sacrificing something of ourselves. The commandment to construct the Tabernacle for the Divine Presence is the fruitful result of that aspiration. This corresponds to the teacher’s yud, “higher wisdom” as it descends to inspire the student’s heart.

“Running” towards God by giving our donation we enable our “return” to mundane reality, bringing God with us into our own sanctuary, “You shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I shall dwell amongst them”—in the heart of every individual soul.

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