The word "teruma", the name of this week's Torah reading, is usually translated as "contribution" or "offering". However, the Hebrew word is really rooted in the word "rom", meaning "high", implying the elevation of something, as when we take something mundane and make it holy by using it for a divine purpose, such as donating money to build a synagogue, or helping a needy person, simply because G‑d commanded us to. When it comes to giving (as in the case of charity), who is supposed to be helping whom? While the transaction of the rich giving to the poor is so clear, there are additional ways to understand it: the Hebrew word "tzedaka" does not exactly mean "charity" or "kindness", but rather "righteousness" or "justice". This teaches us that it is for the demands of justice that a Jew gives, since the Jew has been entrusted by G‑d with the means to give to others who are lacking. The money actually belongs to the receiver.

The giver needs the receiver if he is to fulfill the commandment of giving tzedaka….

On a more mystical level, the great Kabbalist of Safed, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the holy Ari, describes the act of giving tzedaka as a spiritual union. The coin being exchanged is shaped like the letter yud, and therefore a hint to the yud of G‑d's name Havayah; the five-fingered hand passing it on is the hei (whose numerical value is 5) of G‑d's name; the outstretched arm (shaped like the letter vav) and the open hand of the receiver are the vav and final hei of G‑d's name, effectively joining the giver and receiver. The giver needs the receiver if he is to fulfill the commandment of giving tzedaka. We see an even more extreme perspective in the following Chassidic story.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov once asked a person who was known to be quite wealthy to make a contribution to the city's charity fund. The individual answered the Rebbe that at that moment his situation was quite difficult, but as soon as the situation improved, he would be more than happy to make a sizeable donation. The Riminover Rebbe responded to him as follows: The Talmud states that to one who loans money to a poor person during his time of need applies the verse in Psalms, "Then he will call and G‑d will answer!" This is perplexing. To whom is the expression "during his time of need" referring? Is there any time that a poor person is not needy? That is the essence of a poor person; he is always looking for more money!

Rather, "At his time of need" is not speaking about the poor person, but rather about the lender. If he still gives his last resources to a poor individual, regardless of his currently difficult financial situation, then he, the giver, will merit the verse, "When he calls, G‑d will answer". Who is benefiting? The giver!

The Seer of Lublin expands on this benefit. This week's Torah portion opens with G‑d saying, "Take for me a teruma." Rashi comments that the word "take" is being used instead of "bring" to teach us that in order to elevate something physical into a divine offering, it has to be done intentionally, for G‑d's sake. The Seer of Lublin expounds on this, explaining that it means G‑d is saying, "Give Me an elevation." This means that when a person serves G‑d, G‑d is telling us that in effect He is being uplifted through our studying Torah and performing the commandments.

That is pretty amazing, but to whom is the verse referring to that is expected to elevate G‑d? Probably the great Jews of previous generations. Certainly not me! Who am I to lift up G‑d?! For that reason the verse continues, "…from any person that His heart wills it." G‑d saw (and sees) all the future generations, meaning that He sees each particular individual, even this generation of spiritual under-achievers. The will came from G‑d (see the verse), to have pleasure from them and accept even their uplifting offerings. Yes, even from us, G‑d says, He will take from us a "teruma", an "uplifting". Remember that the next time you put a coin in a charity box.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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