There are a number of ways people may react to an appeal for tzedakah.
Some perceive a request to give tzedakah as a threat to their own financial well-being. To them, the gabbai tzedakah is like the IRS, which takes your hard-earned money against your will. Regardless of how wealthy these people may be, they can only get themselves to part with the barest minimum donation.
Some have a different fear: a fear of being mocked as stingy. Those people give larger amounts — but with a heavy heart. They are generous only because they are ashamed not to be.
Still others look upon a request for tzedakah as an opportunity. As the expression goes, he who has the me’ah (the hundred dollars) has the de’ah, the power. The prestige and power accruing to a recognized philanthropist is the deciding factor in opening up some people’s pockets.
While the latter reactions at least produce a contribution, they are far from the ideal approach.
In this parashah, the Torah instructs us how to give. Alshich Hakadosh teaches:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart shall motivate him you shall take My portion.”
The first step should take place in the privacy of one’s home. Each person was enjoined to take time to ponder the great privilege of contributing towards the Mishkan. Carefully separating themselves from any other thoughts or considerations that would sully the loftiness of the moment, with great joy and singular devotion “they shall take to Me a portion,” and generously set aside a contribution.
At this point, a transformation occurs. While externally it might appear that this is when he is “giving,” the donor is really “taking.” For in reality nothing we “own” is ours, and every dollar and every object in our possession was entrusted to us by Hashem — to serve Him with. Only now that he set these funds or goods aside for tzedakah, do they — so to speak — become his, so that he can be properly credited with fulfilling the mitzvah.
Now that they “belong” to him, with a jubilant heart he brings them to the gabbai tzedakah, who has been told, “From every man whose heart shall motivate him you shall take My portion.”
* * *
Harav Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker Rebbe, zy”a, and Harav Yitzchak, the Vorka Rebbe, zy”a, were very close friends with different paths in avodas Hashem.
The Kotzker Rebbe, stressed the derech of hisbodedus, the role of serving Hashem through solitude and contemplation. The Vorka Rebbe, on the other hand, spent a lot of time with Chassidim, even eating and drinking with them.
On one occasion the two met, and the Kotzker Rebbe said that he had proof from this week’s parashah that his path was the right one.
While the phrase V’yikchu li terumah is generally translated, “They shall take to Me a portion,” the underlying meaning of terumah is “separation.”
“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to Me” — if you wish to “take” a path of avodas Hashem, a path, as Rashi says, lishmi — “dedicated to My name,” then “terumah,” separate yourself from others.
This separation is necessary from “every man,” the Kotzker Rebbe continued, even from the type of individual “whose heart shall motivate him.”
The Vorka Rebbe replied that his path in avodas Hashem was also described in the very same passuk.
“Take to Me terumah,” he explained, meant that you should “take” from every one. Draw close to your fellow man and learn from him.
* * *
There are times in our lives for hisbodedus, solitude, in which to ensure that our deeds are correct and our motives pure.
There is also a constant need to learn from others, and there are plenty of wonderful role models. Every gabbai tzedakah has his share of anecdotes concerning anonymous, humble benefactors who act totally for the sake of the mitzvah.
May we merit to emulate them.