Terumah On Charity – Parashat Terumah Exodus 25:1 – 27:19 16.02.13

The blog is attached as well.

Terumah On Charity – Parashat Terumah Exodus 25:1 – 27:19 16.02.13

Haftorah I Kings 5:26 – 6:13

Commentary on Exodus 25:1-8


Howard Adelman

Yesterday I wrote about humiliation in which a person is not only exposed as unworthy of the status he or she holds, but experiences that he or she is unworthy of even aspiring for such a status. In this Shabat’s parashah, the name of the portion is Terumah. The word derives from the verb rum (root: resh.vav.mem) meaning to raise up and present. The noun form, terumah, is a gift offering. How can a gift or an offering raise someone or something up? By giving someone a boost in morale? The question becomes more difficult when the paradox is brought out more clearly.

Terumah literally means something that is uplifted or raised up to a higher level. The term also suggests giving something away and saving something. To take the latter first, the literal meaning of terumah also means ‘setting aside a portion’. Finally, it also means a ‘donation’ in the sense of a portion removed from one’s possession. So we can depict the three meanings of terumah as follows:

1. giving something away, that is, a portion is removed from one’s possession;

2. saving something in the sense of setting aside a portion;

3. lifting or raising something to a higher level.

How can you both give something away and save it at the same time while also raising it up? How is that possible?

In German, the verb aufheben also means three seemingly contradictory things: to eliminate or abolish; to save or put away; and to raise up through sublation. Aufhaben is central to understanding how Hegel’s dialectic of self-consciousness takes place. T’rumah also has three meanings:

1. giving something away;

2. saving something;

3. raising something up.

How are these three activities related and how does that connection fit in with God’s request that the mishkan, God’s portable tabernacle, be constructed? At the beginning of the Parashah, the Israelites are asked to contribute fourteen different materials for its construction: three metals (gold, silver and copper); dyed material made from three different colours of flax (sky-blue dye from one species of purpura snail), purple from the crimson worm that is a strong, bright, deep reddish purple, and crimson red (from another species of purpura snail); then one item that stands alone – fine natural or beige coloured linen; then three materials derived from other living species (goat’s hair, tanned ram skins and dolphin skins); three other materials brought forth from this earth, acacia wood, oil from olives and spices for the aromatic incense; and finally the other stand alone item, gemstones, including lapis lazuli, to decorate the official dress of the high priest, the ephod and the breast piece. (Exodus 25:3-7)

The gifts shall be accepted by Moses can be organized as follows:

The Mishkan The Contents

Structure Décor Priestly


Altar Altar Artefacts Decorations
Gold Blue Flax Goat’s Hair Acacia wood
Silver Purple Flax Linen Ram Skins Olive Oil Gems
Copper Red Flax Acacia Wood Spiced Incense

Note the following: while God commands that the portable arc of the covenant be built, He does not command the Israelites to donate the material and labour. He requests the donations. In contrast with the Haftorah portion (IKings 5:26-6:13) describing in detail the building of the first temple, the portable temple is built by the people on a voluntary basis. The permanent temple is built by King Solomon. Second, the material must be given freely from a full heart of one who is smitten with God. Third, whereas the structure of the permanent temple is built of hewn stones and cedar wood, the mishkan is built of metal, of very precious metal with respect to the first two items, gold and silver. At today’s prices, copper isn’t so cheap either.

In Hasidic lore, gold, silver and copper, the items requested to build the structure, are symbolic of the three pillars upon which the world stands, Torah, prayer and good deeds or tzedakah. (Aaron L. Raskin "Gold, Silver, Copper: Parsha Terumah) They are also connected with the three core meanings of Terumah as follows:

Pillar of the World Material Meaning

Torah Gold Allowing a portion to be removed from one’s possession

Prayer Silver Saving and preserving

Tzedakah (charity) Copper Raising someone up

Let me expand on each of the above.

When I study Torah, I begin by accepting God as mighty and powerful. God is Lord and our strength. I study by reading and interpreting a portion of the Torah. I then share that interpretation and the interpretation becomes the possession of anyone who reads it. It is no longer mine. Part of me, of my intellect, has first allowed myself to be inspired and informed by my learning and my muse. I am possessed. Then through sharing, I have been allowed to be possessed by others.

Prayer, tefilah, means to beg and beseech; it means to implore. Jews pray to God but for themselves — to preserve their lives, their health and their comfort and to allow their hearts to be open to the divine spirit, to make ourselves sacred and prepare ourselves for service and sacrifice. We pray for empowerment. We pray for courage. If Torah is other directed, prayer is self-directed. Through prayer, we gain a sense of humility and cannot be humiliated because, through prayer, we recognize that we have a very lowly status. If Torah is our gold standard, prayer is the silver foundation of our lives. If for Torah, God is the Lord and Master, in prayer, God is Mercy, though He never seemed to inhabit the road that led to Mercy Hospital, No Mercy Road, more formally known as Mains Avenue in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. That road was blocked and Blacks traditionally were not afforded the comfort of a room in Mercy or No Mercy Hospital. Through prayer, God cannot help you boost yourself by your own bootstraps with God’s help. For the point of prayer is not to obtain God’s help but to facilitate our own self-reliance. Prayer is not a bargaining session in which we trade off a promise of servitude in return for a loan. We pray even though God is broke and the bank is closed. Prayer is associated with our sacrifices, not rewards from God.

The Hebrew verb for prayer—tefilah is hitpalel (root: peh.lamed.lamed) in the reflexive mode. It means ‘to judge’. "The use of this shoresh in its simpler forms is generally associated with ‘judgement’. For instance, in Shemot 21:22 – the case is to be ruled *…v’natan biPh’LiLim* – ‘…paying as much as the judges determine.’ (BDB 813), however, suggest an earlier usage of the shoresh – which evolves into "judgement". They render *P*L*L as ‘intervene, interpose’. Since the arbitrators/judges intervene (on behalf of the wronged party), they are fulfilling an act of *P’LiLah*; thus, judges (or the court) are rendered *P’LiLim*." (Rambam, Hilkhot T’fillah 1:01, torah.org)

In this case, the one who prays (usually in silence) and the one prayed for are the same. To pray means judging oneself thereby allowing us to transform ourselves. Through the activity of prayer, and not because of the One prayed to, God makes possible self-transformation and renewal. Prayer allows us to acquire an attitude of self-reliance and is not intended as a path to influence God. The target is the one offering the prayer.

The third of the tryptich of Torah and Tefilah is Tzedakah.

Tzedakah is usually translated as charity but actuallymeans “doing justice, or what is right”, not “charity”, as in the Christian caritas. Tzedakah includes giving alms to the poor and donating funds for the old aged home and for refugees. Tzedakah is more than charity. Tzedakah is not just doing good deeds but making sure that charitable donations and one’s deeds actually serve to raise up the other. The other must not only feel raised up but must actually be on a higher level. Even though tzedakah is purportedly of the same value as all the other mitzvoth in the Torah put together, tzedakah is still only symbolized by copper. (See Miamonides’ “Eight Levels of Tzedakah”


So Terumah provides a structure of Torah, Tefilah and Tzedakah which we can decorate, wear pure but unadorned linen, cover the arc and dress our holy priests. When we build something physical, whether it is a home for God or for ourselves, we are building a home for a family and building a structure that will enlarge our spiritual lives. The portion began with God’s request that we donate to permit the building of the portable arc of the covenant and the building of the structure to carry the arc, so that we could sacrifice and give away that which can raise another up.

This virtue is not an abstraction. The demand greets us everyday, outside the subway station and outside the bank. On Wednesday I received the following email from one of my blog readers:

Hi Howard, I have a story to share and a request to make. Purim is just days away, and traditionally we celebrate the triumph over evil, share food treats and find ways to help the needy. I have spent most of my life doing just that. I was born in the Kensington Market to very poor immigrant parents who left Europe in time. My father was from Russia, my mother from Poland, One sister also came to Canada before the war but everyone else was murdered. I grew up knowing we had to help each other. When I was six years old, there was unusual jubilation in the Market, unlike the sadness and mourning and struggles that were my daily life. The State of Israel had been declared! I have been an ardent and active Zionist ever since. In 1963, having worked my way through University College, I had a BA, the first university graduate in my family. I was approached by the director of Jewish family and Child Services to work for them as an untrained social worker because I am fluent in Yiddish and French and they needed that to better serve the immigrants from post war Europe and the new wave from Morocco and Tangiers and other parts of North Africa. I went on to earn an MSW from U of T , graduating in 1969. and worked in many of the major hospitals as a psychiatric social worker. In the early 1990’s I was divorced, three great kids, elderly parents who needed help, a full time job and strong ties to Israel. A couple of hard to diagnose illnesses caused me to lose my job, and after a couple of months, lose my home and everything I had worked so hard for.. To say it was a difficult time is an understatement. I never thought this would have happened to me, however I am very strong and resilient. It took some years but I survived and moved on. I started thinking about people who were not as strong… who was helping them? From that time I reached out to vulnerable people and offered them my best. There have been many dramatic success stories. I have newspaper clippings and thank you letters and videos. Rabbis call me, and occasionally clergy from other communities as well. The shelters know who I am and what I do. Occasionally a wealthy family needs my help and they do pay generously. More often the person has no way to pay me but if I know things can be made better for that person I don’t refuse. At this time in my life, I need support. If you or anyone you know would be willing to make a donation it would help me a great deal at this point in my life. I have done a lot of work in the Russian Jewish community here in Toronto and one of their congregations will accept donations towards my work and can provide a legitimate receipt for 2013 tax purposes. I look forward to hearing from you, best regards, Lillian Please feel free to forward this email to anyone who might be interested. I am also available to speak to any groups, large or small about how we can more effectively help the most vulnerable here and in Israel.

Lillian Freedman lillianfreedman18

Sunday or Monday:

Obama13: Virtue Ethics and the Redemption of White America

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending

[Tags Torah, prayer, charity,



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