Offerings Bring One Closer to G-d
The offerings presented by the Children of Israel for the construction of the Sanctuary present a certain number of questions. We have resolved a few of these in previous articles, but there still remain some that require explanation.
Does G-d lack silver of gold that He had to ask the Children of Israel to offer Him some? Silver and gold belong to G-d, and the whole world is filled with His glory (Isaiah 6:3). Certainly it was because He wanted to give the Children of Israel the opportunity to help cover the expenses incurred by the construction of the Sanctuary. But if so, why did G-d tell them, “Speak to the Children of Israel ve’yikhu li [and they shall take for Me] a portion. From every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion” (Exodus 25:2)? All G-d had to do was to command the Children of Israel to bring Him an offering. After all, don’t we oblige the sick to take their medication? Why then does the verse not write ve’yaviu li (“and they shall bring to Me”) or ve’yitnu li (“and they shall give to Me”) instead of ve’yikhu li?
The answer is that a man should observe all the commandments ordained by G-d, putting them into practice and walking in His ways, and he should cleave to Him (Deuteronomy 11:22). In line with the given spiritual level that a man has attained, he should, as it were, offer himself to G-d (ve’yikhu li).
A man arrives at such a state by participating in the construction of the Sanctuary, or in other words by elevating himself in his Divine service. The Eternal will receive the offering of each person according to the fervor with which that person gives it to Him. As it is written, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
G-d asks us to “take ourselves,” in other words to attach ourselves to the Tzaddik in order to imbue ourselves with his spirit of holiness and reach ever-higher levels. We will then be like the crown placed on the head of the Holy One, blessed be He. G-d asks us to offer Him this portion, a portion that attached us to the Garden of Eden before our soul’s descent into this world. We will then, as it were, resemble Him. We will cleave to Him by the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot and good deeds, instead of attaching this portion to the vain pursuits that the evil inclination encourages us to chase after. Let us emulate the righteous of the generation; let us push ourselves to behave like them and their students (Vayikra Rabba 25:3). We will then reach lofty spiritual levels and the Divine Presence will reside within us. Let us distance ourselves from the “pleasures” of this world. Above all, let us be sure to make the first step, and G-d will help us (Pesikta Rabba 15:6).
That which G-d asks a Jew is not to covet silver or gold, but to labor in the performance of the mitzvot. G-d desires that a person’s money helps those who study Torah, for “it is a tree of life to those who grasp it” (Proverbs 3:18). The Midrash teaches that the profits which Zubulun made with his commerce served to maintain the yeshivas of Issachar (Zohar I:241b), for it is the ones who study Torah that build the Temple (see Megillah 29a).
All money should go for Torah and mitzvot. A Jew who wants to attach himself to G-d should contribute financially to the construction of religious schools, yeshivas, mikvehs, etc. – the Sanctuary of our day. One should not rely on miracles. Generosity contributes to bringing down a spiritual bounty into this world. The Eternal certainly helps us in the material domain – with daily sustenance, health, etc. – but in the spiritual domain and the fear of Heaven, everything depends on man. This is why G-d did not obligate the Children of Israel to bring their offerings. He counted on the goodness of their heart, on their fear of Heaven, and on their desire to elevate themselves in the service of G-d. As it is written, “All those with generous hearts brought burnt-offerings [ohlot – from aliah: ‘elevation’]” (II Chronicles 29:31).
At this point we can understand the connection between the two weekly sections (Terumah and Tetzaveh).
The first Parsha teaches us to distance ourselves from the pleasures of this world (above all from greed), and to instead come closer to G-d. The Shechinah will then encourage us, in proportion to our fervor, to serve G-d. The Parsha also teaches us to contribute financially to the construction of places of worship and Torah establishments, and to attach ourselves to the Tzaddik of the generation, a person who himself is connected directly to the Eternal.
In the verse that states, “Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil” (Exodus 27:20), G-d commands Moses – whose soul is propagated and present in every generation (Tikkun Zohar 69:112a) – to impregnate the Children of Israel with his holiness. They would thereby get closer to him. He then commanded that they purify their body and soul and acquire virtues such as modesty. “You, the Tzaddik of the generation, bring your brothers closer to you in order to illuminate and purify their soul like oil.” We should note the similarity of the letters in the words shemen (“oil”) and neshama (“soul”). For the virtues that you will make them acquire, you will grind and completely subdue (katit) their body and soul to My service. Then “anyone with whom his fellowmen are pleased, G-d is pleased with him” (Perkei Avoth 3:10). Thanks to the Torah, this light that makes men take to the right path (Yerushalmi Hagigah 1:7) will make them acquire good traits.
As we have seen, the terumah (offering) meromemet (elevates) man, as it is written: “Rabbi Meir said, ‘Whoever occupies himself with the [study of] Torah for its own sake merits many things. Furthermore, he is worthy that the whole world shall have been created because of him’ ” (Perkei Avoth 6:1). The term li (“for myself”), having the numerical value of 40, means that by the study of Torah, which was given after 40 days, one can connect oneself to the Name of G-d – li lishmi. Moreover, the number of beams in the Sanctuary alludes to the 48 virtues by which Torah is acquired (Perkei Avoth 6:6). What’s more, even the term kerashim alludes to the kesharim – to the interactions that the man who studies Torah has with G-d – and shekarim means that without Torah, the world is but a massive lie.
Nevertheless, before trying to get closer to G-d, a man should probe and better himself. “Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan…. A fire came forth from before the L-RD and consumed them, and they died before the L-RD” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Why? They had most certainly acquired the 48 virtues by which the Torah is acquired. Otherwise, the passage would not have testified concerning them that “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me” and “the entire House of Israel shall bewail the conflagration that the L-RD ignited” (Leviticus 10:3,6).
They were certainly great people, but since they realized that the Sanctuary aimed at bringing Israel closer to its Creator, they wanted to connect themselves to the Holy One, blessed be He, even before the construction of the Sanctuary, as it is written, “They saw G-d, and they ate and they drank” (Exodus 24:11). The Midrash explains that they had delighted in the vision of the Divine Presence, just as one delights in food. However G-d, Who did not want to disturb the celebration, punished them when they offered a strange fire (Vayikra Rabba 20:7).
Nadav and Avihu perished because they wanted to see too much; they wanted to come too close to the Holy One, blessed be He. This was contrary to Moses, who hid his face before the Divine Presence (Exodus 3:6). However, since in the final analysis they only wanted to sanctify the Name of G-d, the place where they perished was also sanctified, and all the people understood the importance of it.
Woe to the person, therefore, who thinks he is perfect and who does not constantly watch to ensure that his mitzvot are performed in compliance with the Divine will and only for the sake of Heaven. It is not proper that the servant should look directly into his master’s face. Nadav and Avihu, who were fundamentally pure and holy, should have covered their faces instead of looking directly at the Divine Presence on the day when the Sanctuary was erected.
If we perform all our mitzvot solely for the sake of G-d’s Name, the Eternal yishkan (will dwell in us). We will in this way come closer to Him, and He will be, as it were, our neighbor.
“And they shall make [ve’assu] for Me a Sanctuary” (Exodus 25:8). A man should essentially aim at rectifying this world of Asiyah (action) that was tarnished first by the sin of Adam and then by the sin of the golden calf. With regards to this, let us note the similarity between the numerical values of the terms ve’assu (along with its letters) and Asiyah (with the kollel – i.e., plus one). By the performance of the mitzvot and the diligent study of Torah, a man will succeed in transforming this world into a sanctuary for G-d.
“Just as I make my Divine Presence reign over the entirety of the Jewish people,” says the Eternal, “I can make it reign individually over each of My children, who are a world in miniature” (Zohar III:257b). In the same way, a man should not neglect the least of the mitzvot, since they make shefa (abundance) come down into this world.
G-d desires that we be sincerely connected to Him. Let us not act like those who try to deceive Him with their mouths and lie to Him with their tongues (Psalms 78:36). Their hearts are not whole with Him, they are not faithful to His covenant (v.37), and they transgress the Divine commandments. One cannot, however, approach or really know Him and become imbued with the Divine Presence unless one radically distances oneself from the vain pleasures of this world and believe simply in Him.
May G-d grant our hearts the necessary intelligence and wisdom to attach ourselves to Him forever. Amen!