Parshas Terumah: A Fake World

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz:

As this week’s parsha of Terumah opens, Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the Bnei Yisroel and tell them “viyikchu li terumah,” to collect donations for the construction of the Mishkon. Rashi explains that the extra word “li” is there to delineate that the donations should be given “lishmi,” which ostensibly means lesheim Hashem, that the donations should be given for the sake of Hashem.

Targum Onkelos explains it differently, saying, “Veyafrishun kodomai afroshusah,” that they should separate what they are planning to give before they give it. Rav Meir Soloveitchik explained that this indicates that there was an obligation to set aside and be makdish – consecrate – the donation before it was given.

This was a special din only applicable to donations for the construction of the Mishkon. Other contributions did not have to be sanctified before being given to the Mishkon and the Bais Hamikdosh.

Why was that? What was different about the Mishkon that it necessitated only “holy” contributions?

Until this week, the parshiyos of Shemos dealt with our slavery in Mitzrayim, our redemption from there, and our formation as a people at Har Sinai with the acceptance of the Torah and the laws described last week in Mishpotim.

This week, we come to the purpose of it all, the construction of the Mishkon, which returned the Shechinah to rest upon the Bnei Yisroel. The Ramban, in his hakdomah to Shemos, writes that Seder Shemos discusses the first golus and the geulah from it. The geulah is not complete, however, until the Bnei Yisroel return to their rightful place and to the heights that their forefathers achieved. Therefore, although they left Mitzrayim, they were considered in golus until they arrived at Har Sinai, erected the Mishkon, and the Shechinah returned to them. With that, they returned to the heights of their forefathers upon whom the Shechinah rested.

Although they were camped in the desert, far from their country, they were not considered in golus, because they were connected to the Shechinah, which was among them.

Analyzing the posuk, “Ve’osu li Mikdosh veshochanti besocham – And they shall make for Me a Mikdosh and I will dwell amongst them” (Shemos 25:8), the Alshich writes that “ikar hashro’as Shechinah b’adam velo babayis,” ­­the main place where the Shechinah rests is among the people, “…ki nafshosam heim haMishkon ha’amiti, umeihem mispasheit el hamakom hahu – because in the souls is the real Mishkon where the Shechinah rests, and from there it spreads out to the building,” because Hashem only seeks to dwell in the neshamos of Klal Yisroel. When they are unworthy of that, the Shechinah will also depart from the Mishkon or Mikdosh where Hashem chose to house the Shechinah.

The Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 1:17) also says that the Shechinah resting among the Bnei Yisroel refers to it being in the hearts of the Bnei Yisroel.

Rav Dovid Cohen (Meirosh Tzurim 14:4) writes that the Torah is what connects Klal Yisroel to Hashem. He brings that Matan Torah on Har Sinai was akin to an engagement. When they received the Torah, they dedicated themselves to Hashem through Torah. The Mishkon was the completion of the cementing of the relationship with Hakadosh Boruch Hu through Torah. It is through the strength of Torah that the Shechinah rested amongst Klal Yisroel following the construction of the Mishkon, which was, so to speak, the final phase of Kabbolas HaTorah that began at Har Sinai.

With this, we can understand why the donations to the Mishkon had to be consecrated before being donated.

It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that if a shul would be built totally with pure intentions, the tefillos said in that shul would also be pure. Success in spiritual matters is dependent upon the degree to which they were done purely lesheim Shomayim, without any impure or outside considerations.

The Brisker Rov would relate that during the lifetime of the Chofetz Chaim, the yeshivos went through a rough period. The Chofetz Chaim remarked that the reason for the weakness of Torah study was because the money that was arriving from overseas for the support of the yeshivos was raised from people without pure intentions. The philanthropists who donated the money were motivated by a desire for attention and honor, not by concern and appreciation for Torah and Torah study. Because the contributions were defective, the Torah study in the Lithuanian yeshivos suffered.

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Thus, because the Mishkon was the second phase of Kabbolas HaTorah, the contributions had to be lishmah so that the Mishkon and its keilim would be able to perform their function and connect the Bnei Yisroel and Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Had the money that was given not already been set aside for kedusha, it would be defective and unable to achieve its enduring objective.

People work and toil in learning, and in observance of mitzvos, and wonder why at times they don’t feel that they are succeeding. Everything in life that we accomplish is through siyata diShmaya. When our intentions are not pure, it is more difficult to merit Divine help in what we do. It is incumbent upon us when undertaking an endeavor to ensure that our motives are pure, and that not only is what we are doing correct, but it is being done for the correct reasons.

We must always be sure that we are unfailingly honest and upright in all our financial dealings, as well as in conversations with others, especially with people who trust us and turn to us for advice and direction. The worst thing we can do is to betray a trust and steer people wrong, taking advantage of them or acting in an abusive manner when we think we can get away with it.

If we want to merit aliyah in Torah, financial success, nachas from our children, and being fulfilled, satisfied and content with life in general, we have to ensure that we work and engage without ulterior and tainted motives.

I have known Rav Zvi Schvartz for more than three decades. I consider him one of the secret tzaddikim of the generation. When you meet him, he seems like an ordinary Eretz Yisroel type of Yid. He is a man with a short beard, a hat that has seen better days, and a beautiful smile. He has a very unassuming air about him, but when he begins to speak, his words are poetic, seasoned by a lifetime of Torah. He is totally lesheim Shomayim and seeks neither fame nor financial riches.

I know Rav Zvi through my involvement with Lev L’Achim, as he heads the Lev L’Achim division in Rechovot.

Twenty years ago, I had the honor of hosting the first Monsey Lev L’Achim parlor meeting in my home. Rav Zvi came a week before the event to help drum up support and seek out donations for the cause. The parlor meeting was to be held on a Sunday night. I spent the week before going around with him every night, knocking on people’s doors and making little headway. I was dejected. It had all the earmarks of a disaster. We knocked on tens of doors and rang many bells, but only got admitted to one home. At that one house, we didn’t do well. We stood at the door, made our pitch, and were politely rebuffed.

But while the apathetic responses we received put a complete damper on my own expectations, they didn’t make the slightest dent in Rav Zvi’s. Despite the clear signs that the parlor meeting would be a flop, he remained supremely optimistic. Every time I said something negative or advised him to return home to his wife and kehillah, he promised me that the evening would be a tremendous success. “Natzliach, natzliach,” he said. “Atah tireh.”

Every time I asked him how he was so confident of a successful evening, he gave the same answer: “Im ani omer shezeh yatzliach, zeh yatzliach. If I say that it will be a success, then it will be a success.” I had already known him for ten years, and he was unfailingly humble and normal. It was totally out of character for him to speak that way, with an abundance of self-confidence. But not wanting to hurt his feelings, I didn’t say anything about his newfound hubris.

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The day of the parlor meeting, he insisted that we rent and set up 250 chairs for the crowd he was anticipating. The chairs came, and I attempted to hide them in the garage. I knew that the worst thing is to have a roomful of empty chairs. It would be embarrassing enough that no one would show up. We didn’t have to advertise it.

He caught me. He found the chairs and set them up himself.

No matter how I tried to brace this ardent baal bitachon for an evening of disappointment, he was having none of it.

At the appointed hour, streams of people began appearing, until there was no place to park and the house was overflowing. Hundreds of people came.

Rav Zvi approached me halfway through the program and said with much love, “So you see now, I told you that it would be a hatzlocha and it is! We don’t even have enough seats!”

I said to him, “But my dear Rav Zvi, it is true that there are many people here, but there is little money. What good is it without making money?”

He repeated his mantra: “Im ani omer shezeh yatzliach, zeh yatzliach.”

I laughed.

He said, “You still don’t trust me. Stand right here, in this spot, next to the gentleman who is writing out receipts at a small table. In two minutes, someone will walk over and say that he wants to give a sizeable donation. When you hear that, call me. I’ll be outside welcoming the people who are still arriving.”

I smiled in disbelief at his confidence in the impossible. I stood where he placed me, dreading the moment when reality would dawn on Rav Zvi.

But when reality dawned, I was the one in shock.

I didn’t have to wait long. A rebbi from a local yeshiva walked over to the table and said that he’d like to make a donation. The receipt writer said, “Sure, write the check. I’ll give you a receipt.”

“Actually, I want to talk to someone about giving something substantial,” the man said. “I came here to see Uri Zohar, and I became so inspired that I want to give something big.”

Startled, I ran to get Rav Zvi and brought him in to speak to the man. The conversation netted $50,000. (The parlor meeting netted another $50,000.)

I was shaken to the core by what happened. When I finally regained my composure, I sputtered to Rav Zvi, “How could you do that? How could you know that something like that would happen?”

He didn’t respond. I said to him, “Rav Zvi, how could you have known? How can you say something like that and really believe it would happen?”

Im ani omer shezeh yatzliach, zeh yatzliach,” he answered with a smile. “If I tell you that we will succeed, we will.”

Then, he added, “I don’t know how it happened.” With much humility, and with a nonchalant smile, he continued, “I work lesheim Shomayim and have special siyata diShmaya, so I took the liberty and Hashem helped me.”

I have never forgotten that story and its lesson. When a person works lesheim Shomayim – like Rav Schvartz, who was shlepping around in a foreign country for no other purpose than to raise money to be able to bring Yidden tachas kanfei haShechinah – that person is blessed with special siyata diShmaya. Hashem ensures his success.

If we want to be successful in whatever it is that we are doing, we can all be Rav Schvartz and work faithfully lesheim Shomayim, with pure intentions and without ulterior motives. We should ensure that our money is pure, our thoughts are pure, and our actions are pure, and Hashem will do the rest.

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