Notice: These are unapproved unedited notes of classes given by Rav Soloveitchik [I edited slightly E.E.]. [Thanks to David Isaac for typing these notes]
Lecture delivered by Rabbi Soloveitchik on Saturday night, March 3, 1979 “Parsha Terumah”
Should the sedra of Terumah be worded “V’yikchu Li” (And they shall take to Me) or should it say “V’yitnu Li Terumah” (and they shall give to Me the offering)? The problem is resolved by the next few words. “From every man whose heart is willing shall you take the offering.” “Don’t use force or any method of coercion to take my Teruman if he refuses to give even if he is able to do so!” All other mitzvos were given to all people alike. For instance, ‘Machazis Hashekel,” giving of the half shekel was a command to all alike. The rich shall not give more, the poor less. This Terumah, however, is voluntary, not coercive. The question is regarding Tzdokah. T’zdakah is not an act of charity but an act of justice. We must supply persons who are starving. The mishkan ( Tabernacle) is a part of Tzdakah. It is like a Yeshiva or a Bas Hakneses, individual and institutional T’zdakah. Why has the Torah eliminated the Mishkan from that class, that which must be given to and “come to collect only from those who are ready to offer.” Those whose heart and spirit was kind, whose spirit was elevated, came and brought money.
The answer lies in certain problem which rises as soon as you start to read the parsha. Why is the “Mishkan” necessary right after leaving Mitzraim? This was raised by “Shlomo Hamelech” in his famous prayer. “If the heavens cannot contain You, how will the 20 cubits do so?" Whenever you come across “Bais Hashem” (G-d’s house) it should not be the House of G-d but the House of Man. G-d contracts Himself. He limits Himself from infinity to a small house “between the two ‘Kruvim’ on top of the ‘Kapores’ the cover of the Ark.” “I’ll communicate with you from between the “Kruvim”. From here He engaged Moshe. Why did Hakodosh Boruch Hu do it? Because man basically is a homeless being. No matter how his home is fortified he is exposed to the vicissitudes of life. The animal is also exposed but the animal has no concept of time. Concept of time is a wonderful gift but also the source of endless suffering. To anticipate the future, rain, snow, cold, heat - is very difficult. The purpose of man’s home is to shelter him. But until Messianic times such a home has not been built -- a home to afford man total security. Only one home can give him security; it is G-d’s home. “Hashkifo Mim’on Kodshecho Min Hashamayim” (Devarim, chapter 26, line 15). “Look down from Your holy habitation from heaven.” G-d is greater than the universe. Thus, the only home where man can find security is G-d. Thus, when G-d told Moshe to build a “Mishkan” it is a home not for G-d but for man. Man who feels G-d, is close to Him. G-d feigns loneliness but it is not for Him; it is for man. Everyone who cam to the Bais Hamikdosh ( or to the Tabernacle) saw the Divine Shechina greater than from the outside. Outside we see G-d’s nature -- the flower bush in the backyard is merely a reflection of hte Divine Glory. When I see the rising sun, the beauty of nature, the stars of the cosmos, I experience G-d. All the “Brochos,” as simple as a “brocho” over a glass of water, reflects the glory of G-d. This is the cosmic experience of G-d. This we find expressly described in Psalm 104 - “Borchi Nafshi” (the earth is full of the fruit of Thy works, who causes the grass to spring up for cattle - to bring forth bread from earth and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, etc.) - there, there is no supernatural but the beauty of nature in its primitive form. When one sees the beauty such as David, he sings a hymn of beauty.l Gemora says that if one recites the Hallel every day, it is blasphemous. This is reserved only for the special holidays - Pesach, Shvuoth, Succos. And yet one should and does say “Hallel” every day. The Hallel we do say is the “P’sukei D’Zimrei” (the psalms of praise - the “Hallelukahs” in prayers each morning). Why was one strictly forbidden and the other one allowed each day? Because the two differ in their nature. One describes the cosmic order in every blossom, in every drop of water. This should be said daily. The Hallel of suspending natural order, should only be recited on special occasions.
So there are two ways to approach G-d, through nature and through supra-natural. We see G-d on this world and in the distant planets. The miracle, the supra-cosmic is not every day. This, however, was seen at the Bais Hamikdosh. That’s exactly why G-d told them to build the Tabernacle. “It will be your home but will be called the home of G-d. How did He describe it. “It will be the Tabernacle of Appointment - Ohel Moed -- the tent of meeting - of appointments". That is why Rambam says that the mitzvah of Bais Hamikdosh becomes binding if the people want it. That is why G-d warned, “No force. No constraint.” If the people want it, they cannot be forced for the appointment from time to time through their agent, Moshe. “From whoever will bring it, accept it.” That is why it doesn’t say Vayitnu (give) but Vayikchu (take). “If you want G-d as your next door neighbor, to say hello to in the morning, give. If not, don’t give.” Rambam ways that there are two mitzvas only which are binding on the people: Choosing a king and making the Bais Hamikdosh. These mitzvos become binding only at the request of people. If they are lonely and want a house where to meet G-d, it is binding on them but only if they desire. What does the Bais Hamikdosh symbolize as a home? It symbolizes the universe in miniature. The “Ramah” makes a parallel between “Bereishis” (creating of the world) and the bais Hamikdosh. G-d created the world to reside in this world -- not to be far in a transcendental world -- to abide in the midst of humans. But the “Chet Hakadmon” (the original sin) drove Him - forced Him to retreat. “And they heard the sound of the G-rd G-d walking in the garden and the man and his wife hid from before G-d amongst the trees of the garden (Bereishis, chapter 3, line 8). The “footsteps” were those of G-d - leaving the garden and departing into infinity. Hadn’t they sinned, G-d always would have been close. There would be no need for T’shuvah. Everyone would have been able to communicate, not only the prophet, the “navi” and then only when the occasion was meet. By the fear of Adam’s communication, G-d removed His “Schechina”. Man could have seen the beauty of G-d instead of trying to interpret it scientifically. Had they when confronted said, “Chotosi” - “I have sinned”, nothing would have happened. They would have lived together. But by their procrastination they “heard the steps,” leaving the garden. The purpose of the “Mishkan” was to restore the relationship. “V’Shochanti Besochom” - And I will dwell amongst them. Thus, the purpose was to perceive the closeness of G-d, but again it failed due to the golden calf. It must await moschiach! The remainder of the entire sedra is devoted to symbolism.
I’d like to investigate something else! What actually is important in the Bais Hamikdosh? What is the springwell from which “Kedushah” - holiness, flows? What does man have to do to aquire the attribute of Kedusha? What is unique about the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdosh? How can a man lead a holy sacred life? Where was the first Bais Hamikdosh? It was not the “Mishkan” but Mt. Sinai. How do we know! It was the first place that had boundaries, dividing the line into different areas. The Torah emphasizes that the boundaries must be respected. “V’Higbalto Es Haom” (Yisro, chapter 19, line 12) - And you shall set bounds for the people. The second time Moshe was warned again. “Rayd Hoayd B’om” (sentence 21), “Go down and charge the people.” Moshe answered, “The people cannot come close.” G-d answered, “Go down to them! You come up with Aaron.” What is the most important principle of Yehadus? What is the price that Torah demands of a Jew? It is respect for a boundary line! The animal, the beast, if you want to contain it, can only be done if you surround your land with a fence. The human if he is a decent person does not need a fence; a sign suffices. What does the Torah require? It requires that we be capable of respecting certain boundary lines which the Torah introduced. We respect the law in two ways - B’ahava (love) and V’yira (fear). Basically, if you observe laws because of sanctions, it is not Kedusha - holy. I do not achieve moral personality if I am afraid of punishment. I only achieve it if I love doing it. Emperor Andreas said to Rebbi Yehoshuah Ben Chananya, “Your scriptures declare that a living dog is superior to a dead lion. You call me a dog so I who am alive am superior to Moshe who is dead!” The Rabbi said to the Emperor, “Are you ready for a test? Give instructions to all of Rome not to light any fires for a period of 24 hours on the threat of execution.” These instructions were issued and the two ascended a hill overlooking Rome. From there, they saw smoke arising in various localities indicating that some had lit fires. Then Rabbi Yehoshuah declared, “Msohe told the Jewish people not to light fires on the Sabbath. Go and see the Jewish community. You will not find a single one lighting a fire on Sabbath. So I ask you, who is stronger?”
There was another example in history. The Bereditchiver Rebbe asked two groups of Jews to do different things. One group was asked to gather Turkish shawls. (Apparently a forbidden thing in his time for although it could bring money, it could also cause arrest by the authorities.) The other group was told to bring bread just before Pesach. Despite the risk, one group brought shawls. Of the second group, not one handled bread before Pesach. The Jewish people respected the law of the boundary with merely a word or two of G-d. Perek says, “Make a fence around the Torah.” The Jew is not afraid of a real fence. We are not afraid of that which is not a principle of Judaism. The other one is an imaginary fence. A Jew cannot step on a bed of roses. It arouses a feeling of ugliness. He does not abstain from violating Shabbos merely on account of the threat of stoning. With the exception cited in the Torah, no Jew was ever stoned for violating Shabbos. But is is our feeling of happiness, enthusiasm to observe Shabbos. G-d says, “There is one virtue indispensable to the Jews -- that of watching, observing, and not violating the boundary.” The “Goal” the boundary is not visible. There is no need for sanctions. This is how the Jew survives! Interestingly, before “Matan Torah”, before He began, He said to Moshe, “Warn the people!” Moshe answered, “They cannot; once is enough.” The Jew cannot do an “Avarah”. The Jew simply couldn’t kill people even when he was in the Holocaust. To make it forbidden is to make it so that people find it impossible to do so. Their physical capacity to climb the mountain or “Matan Torah” was taken from them. This is the survival of the Torah. “I simply cannot eat breakfast before I put on Tefilin in the morning. The same law applies to eating before “Mincha”. This has not become a disability -- a part and parcel of us. Tefila Shacharis is so engraved that it is an impossibility. Violation of Shabbos is similar. I have an intuitive feeling of what is forbidden without having to look it up in the “Shulchan Aruch”. There is no serpent or reptile to kill us, no sanction - but we have the inner feeling that makes it impossible. Thus, Moshe says, “It is impossible for them to come up to the Mount.” The line, the imaginary one is stronger than a fence. Thus, G-d told him twice. The ability to respect the imaginary line is the basis of Yehadus. Thus, the “Kedushas Hamikdosh” - the holiness of the Temple are the “Mechitzas” the dividing lines. Thus, Rmambam says that the Kedusha is still there (after 1900 years). Not to climb the Temple Mount despite the desolation. It is because we were warned not to trespass. The Kohan went so far, the Levi so far. We had the separation of “Tomah” - uncleanliness. The same applies with the mechitza of the Erub. It consists of 4 poles with a string on top. It is not a fence but an abstract boundary. Yet we respect these boundaries. It is the principle of Yehodus.
Reading today’s sedra, I found an answer to a problem long bothersome. When G-d met Moshe for the first time and charged him with the mission to Mitzraim, “Go tke them out of Egypt.” He didn’t even tell him how to do it. One detail, however, He did tell Moshe to relay to the people. “When you leave you will not leave empty." The women will borrow beautiful clothing from their neighbors and put them on their children. Why is this necessary to tell them right away? He gave Moshe no details of the plagues, “Dom”, “Tzfadaya”, but when you leave, you will leave loaded. Then later again, “You will take gold, silver, etc.” A third time, “The people listened and borrowed clothing, etc.” Why is this so important before Matan Torah to be told three times? I believe the pasuk, “The people found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians,” has great importance. First, there is the procrastination on the part of Pharaoh, his lying -- the entire story -- what impression do you get? What did G-d want? G-d could have taken them out of Egypt in one hour! But G-d wanted that Pharoah should liberate them! Of course, some times you must stimulate Pharoah! But He wanted that Pharoah should send them -- that the Jews shouldn’t liberate themselves. Also, G-d shouldn’t liberate them immediately. There is a law concerning “Eved Ivri” (the Jewish slave). “Do not send him away empty handed. Why is this necessary to send the “Eved” away laden with gifts? Because basically you give gifts to one who is your equal. Heads of state give presents to the White House because it is an expression of being satisfied, mutual respect, sense of equality. G-d wanted Pharoah not merely to liberate the Jews but to liberate them because he felt they were his equal. The “Shaloh” is not borrowing. It is merely a request. At the beginning, Moshe was not respected. “N’rpim Atem, N’rpin” (Pharoah said to Moshe and Aaron - you are lazy). At the end, he was highly respected. Now the people were eager to give gifts. At least, for a while Pharoah recognized them as equals, to leave as free men -- equal to the Egyptians.
There is another answer. A slave has no property. Whatever he has passes on to the master. In Egypt, they had absolutely nothing - not utensils or anything. Clothes tell the plight of the people. In Egypt, while they wore rags, the Egyptians wore the finest silks, linens and raiments. Suddenly, they were liberated with so much beautiful clothing and wealth. They suddenly could put on the same clothes as their mistresses. So, they could become greedy. However, at once there is a new request, “Vayikchu Li Terumah” -- take to me an offering. What were they asked for? The very same things which they just got. He let them fondle it for a while and then asked them to give it. But the way it was taken from them had a tremendous impact!