Material Wealth and True Blessings

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week's parsha, Terumah, describes the construction of the Mishkan, which was the first national undertaking of the Jewish people.  A great deal of material was needed for this unique building.  In addition to wood and cloth much gold, silver and precious stones were required for the vessels and utensils which would be used in the various services.  Of particular interest is the manner in which the project was to be financed.  One would have thought that a special tax would have been imposed on every Jew.  However, this was not the case.  No one was compelled to give.  Instead, Moshe was instructed to accept the voluntary donations which the people would offer of their own accord.  The question arises:  why wasn't there a more organized method of funding this vital edifice based on some type of mandatory payment?

Many lessons can be learned from Hashem's decree to "take from anyone whose heart inspires him to give". One of the greatest tests of character is the acquisition of great wealth.  People fantasize about winning the lottery and are convinced it will transform them to a state of permanent bliss.  However, nothing is further from the truth.  Many lives have been ruined because of financial fortune.  Judaism does not disparage economic success.  G-d bestowed extreme largess on the patriarchs and promised Abraham that his descendants would not leave Egypt "empty handed."  In fact, the booty that the Jews retrieved from the drowned Egyptian army at the Red Sea was greater than all they had taken when they "cleaned out Egypt."  Hashem conducted the most massive transfer of funds in history.  According to the great commentator Ibn Ezra, the Jews were not guilty of deceit in borrowing valuables from the Egyptians with no intention of returning them.  For, he says, the Jews did this at the behest of Hashem who is the owner of all the earth's resources.  He gave wealth to the Egyptians and when they sinned He took it from them and gave it to the Jews.

However, wealth, per se, is not a blessing as its misuse brings great harm.  Through the building of the Mishkan Hashem imparted a lesson about the proper use of money.  It is a bracha when it is associated with true values and is used to secure them.  When the call went out for the materials needed for the Mishkan, the Jews realized why Hashem had entrusted them with great wealth.  It was to enable them to be actively involved in the construction of the Mishkan for one who establishes a true sanctuary is thereby dedicated to its activities and ideals.  The proper use of wealth is one of the most important teachings of the Torah.  One who gives generously to a noble cause experiences great spiritual benefit and joy.  He affirms that Hashem is the master of the universe who dispenses material blessings so that righteous people can use them to bring goodness to the world.  We should strive to cultivate a discerning heart and a generous spirit, and give of ourselves and our resources with love.

Shabbat Shalom