June 18, 2024
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June 18, 2024
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For some people, giving tzedaka could be easy; yet for others, it might be difficult.

Our parsha begins with the topic of donations toward the building of the Mishkan, with Hashem telling Moshe to speak to Bnei Yisrael that they should “take for Me a portion (i.e., donation),” from those who are in the category of a “nediv lev.” “Lev” means heart, and Rashi notes that “nediv” refers to giving voluntarily and with a good will.

The midrash says that, here, the term “speak” (to Bnei Yisrael) is a language of appeasement much like it says in Yeshaya (40:2) “speak to the hearts of Yerushalayim” (Yalkut Shimoni 363). Hence, Moshe is being told to speak to Bnei Yisrael in a form of appeasement (which based on the comparison to the verse in Yeshaya which is a context of mourning, would seem to mean that Moshe should speak to them in an extremely gentle, warm and comforting way—like how one consoles and speaks to a mourner—in order to incline them to donate towards the Mishkan).

Rav Simcha Zissel from Kelm (“Chochma u’Mussar,” 1:173) asks: Bnei Yisrael were exceedingly wealthy after they left Mitzrayim (as the Gemara says that each one of them had 90 Libyan donkeys—laden with gold and silver—from Egypt (Bechorot, 5b)). Moreover, the wealth they amassed at the sea was even greater than those riches. Why, then, did they need to be “appeased” to give? They were loaded! Furthermore, as Rav Leib Chasman (“Ohr Yahel,” Teruma) points out, this generation consisted of people who received such a great spiritual revelation and experience at the sea—to the point where even a simple maidservant saw what the great prophet, Yechezkel ben Buzi, didn’t merit to see! They were also the people who accepted the Torah and saw the amazing and mind-boggling experiences by Har Sinai, where Hashem spoke to them! They needed to be “appeased”—to the degree of like how one soothes and consoles a mourner—into giving to such a holy cause?

I think we see from here the potential difficulty of parting with and giving of one’s money. Despite how wealthy one may be, or how great of a spiritual level one may be on, it still might be a challenge. Even exceptionally great people, like Aharon Hakohen, might have had this attachment to money: In parshat Tzav, Hashem tells Moshe, “Command Aharon … this is the law of the Olah offering.” Rashi says the word “command” is a language of urging, as Rabbi Shimon says, that the Torah especially urges in a situation where there is monetary loss.

Apparently, Aharon also needed an extra “push” to fulfill this commandment, since it involved monetary loss. The implication seems to be that even someone like Aharon could have been—on some level—attached to and pulled by money, and thus be lax in observing this commandment in its ideal form.

This potential challenge to give could actually be used to one’s advantage, as Avot d’Rebbi Natan says that a deed that involves pain is 100 times greater than a deed done without (3:6). So, let’s say two people give 1000 dollars to tzedakah—for one it was no sweat, but for the other it was difficult. One thousand times 100 is 100,000, so it could, perhaps, be that for the one for whom it was difficult—it’s as if he gave 100,000 dollars! The pain could bring a lot of gain.

Moreover, the difficulty to give tzedakah, might actually encompass one of the central themes that is highlighted and, in fact, glorified in our parsha: There were various kinds of materials that needed to be donated. Surprisingly, the most expensive material—diamonds—are mentioned last in the list of what was donated. Shouldn’t they be mentioned first, if they’re the most precious? The Ohr Hachaim explains that those who donated these diamonds did not put effort to achieve them, for they were heaven-sent to them (see Gemara Yoma 75a). However, those who donated the other materials had to work and toil to achieve them.

The implication from the Ohr Hachaim seems to be that since the other materials were gained through effort, they were considered more endearing to Hashem and, therefore, mentioned first.

Why should it make a difference if effort was put into getting the materials? Shouldn’t the main thing be the inherent and actual value of the material?

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that we know that Hashem wanted the people to donate with a “nediv lev.” This type of giving is accomplished through giving that which one worked hard for, and, yet, willingly donated it to the Mishkan. This means more to Hashem, because when one works to attain something, it’s more dear to the person and thus harder to give away. So, when he does give it, it’s with more of his “lev.” (A story is brought of Rabbi Yochanan whose money was robbed, and when Resh Lakish asked him a question, Rabbi Yochanan didn’t respond, and he explained his disorientation by saying that “all of one’s organs are dependent on his heart, and one’s heart is dependent on his money.” (Gemara Yerushalmi, Terumot 8:4))

We see the connection between one’s money and his “lev” (and that even Rabbi Yochanan—on some level—experienced this attachment), and so, this could maybe be a support to Rav Chaim that when one gives his money, it’s like he’s giving his “lev.” Perhaps, even more pronounced: an opinion in the Gemara (Bava Kama 119) says that one who steals, it’s as if he took the life of the victim. We again see the attachment, but also, perhaps, that when one gives of his money, it’s like he’s giving of himself—his own life. Says Rav Chaim, that’s why the other materials are mentioned first, because in this case, Hashem wanted the “nediv lev” (which includes the difficulty) more than the actual expensive material.

According to Rav Chaim, it seemingly emerges that, although, it may be difficult for one to give, at the same time, one is still able to give willingly and wholeheartedly (like those of Bnei Yisrael who were more attached to those materials they worked for, but yet, gave so willingly that it fulfilled the lofty level of being a “nediv lev”). At first glance, it may seem like a dichotomy, but we may see from here that the two can coexist—and thus, if one gives wholeheartedly despite the difficulty, that could be much more endearing to Hashem than someone who gave much more, but it wasn’t as hard for him.

This potential attachment to money can further be used to our advantage with another perspective: The famous question is: Why does Hashem say “‘take’ for me?” Weren’t they giving to Hashem by donating to the Mishkan?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that while it might look to a person that he “owns” money, that money is not really “his” (like Hashem says, “Mine is the silver and mine is the gold (Chaggai, 2:8)). The only money a person truly “owns”… is the money he gives to tzedaka! That’s the money a person really “has” (“Bet Halevi,” Teruma). When a person gives tzedaka,
those major merits are stored for him in safekeeping in heaven. It’s as if they are in a heavenly bank, which is obviously the most secure place for our “monetary” holdings. Those merits benefit one in the next world, and even produce goodness and blessing to one in this world.

Hence, not only does one maintain and keep his “money” (i.e., its merits) that he gave to charity, he even reaps dividends from it in this world and more so in the next. Essentially then—says the Bet Halevi—when a person gives tzedakah, he is really taking. He’s taking much benefit for himself, much more than what he is giving.

We can, perhaps, learn from Rav Soloveitchik that the attachment one may have with his money—if channeled properly—could, so to speak, actually be maintained for eternity, if he uses it for the right purposes.

Even if it’s a challenge for one to give, realizing the benefits and value of giving tzedakah, how the difficulty itself can be used to our great advantage and how endearing it is to Hashem when we give willingly—even though it may be hard—can, ultimately, help us to give wholeheartedly.

Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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