Proper Priorities in Tzedakah

Laseis es terumas Hashem l’chaper al nafshoseichem (Shemos 30:15)

In the 1920s, the yeshivos of Poland were so strapped for cash that they were unable to pay for even the most basic necessities. A meeting of leading Rabbanim was called in Warsaw to discuss the issue. In order to publicize the dire straits, representatives of a number of leading newspapers were also invited.

After Harav Zalman Sorotzkin finished his speech detailing the financial difficulties and appealing for emergency aid, one of the reporters cynically asked how Harav Meir Shapiro had recently succeeded in collecting so much money to build a new magnificent building to house his yeshivah in Lublin, and why that money hadn’t been used to sustain the struggling existing yeshivos.

Citing Rashi’s comment on our verse, Rav Sorotzkin responded by questioning why, with regard to the construction of the Mishkan, no donations were mandatory and Hashem relied on the generosity of the Jews to supply the necessary materials, while with respect to the communal sacrifices, He obligated every Jew to contribute and wasn’t willing to trust that voluntary contributions would suffice.

The opposite would have seemed more logical, as everybody recognizes that the sacrifices brought in the Mishkan were more precious to Hashem than its physical structure, as the former represents its purpose while the latter is merely the means to achieve this end.

Rav Sorotzkin explained that Hashem recognized that when it comes to collecting funds for the building of impressive edifices, people are quick to donate. Unfortunately, when additional funds are needed to maintain the buildings and help them accomplish their objectives, the money supply suddenly dries up.

When it came to building the Mishkan, so much gold and silver were voluntarily donated within a few days that Moshe was actually forced to proclaim that they should stop bringing more (Shemos 36:5–6). Nevertheless, without the requirement that every Jew donate money for the purchase of communal sacrifices, Hashem recognized that the donations wouldn’t be sufficient to maintain the daily functioning of the Mishkan.

Similarly, the function of yeshivos is the study of Torah. The buildings merely serve as a means to enable this learning to occur. Nevertheless, people are quick to contribute money to dedicate rooms, entrances, and windows to create the physical structure, especially when that donation can be immortalized with a plaque. Sadly, few are those who are interested in giving money to pay for the ephemeral needs such as food, utilities and salaries, which are necessary to keep the building running and enable it to serve its true purpose.

Rav Sorotzkin concluded that with this psychological insight, we now understand that Rav Meir Shapiro was so successful in his fund-raising campaign because the money was going toward his beautiful new building. In a few short years, when the structure will be finished, he will unfortunately have the same difficulties covering his daily operating expenses that the other yeshivos are currently experiencing and with which they so desperately need help!

When we generously open our checkbooks to give charity and support institutions, we can use the lesson of the Mishkan and its donations to examine our priorities and direct our hard-earned money to the truly noble and needy causes.

Q: Rashi writes (30:34) that one of the spices included in the incense — galbanum — had a foul aroma, but it was included to teach us the importance of including wicked Jews when we pray and fast. If one has a choice between praying in a minyan where everybody is righteous or in a minyan where some are wicked, which should he choose?

Q: How was Moshe permitted to break the Tablets (32:19), which contained Hashem’s name, when the Gemara in Sanhedrin (56a) rules that it is forbidden to cause the erasure or destruction of Hashem’s name?


A:  Harav Aharon Leib Steinman is unsure, but writes that it is presumably preferable to pray in the minyan that is all righteous, just as the incense would smell even better without the galbanum. The Sefer Chassidim writes that one should take care not to pray next to a wicked person, which will cause him to have evil thoughts when he prays and the Shechinah will distance itself from him.


A: The Kesef Mishneh maintains that the prohibition to destroy written objects that possess sanctity is only Rabbinical in nature, and at the time that Moshe broke the Tablets this Rabbinical enactment certainly had not yet been made. The Rokeach and Rogatchover Gaon note that Chazal teach that before Moshe broke the Tablets, the writing that was on them miraculously flew away. As a result, the sanctity of the Tablets was removed and it was permissible to destroy them.

The Moshav Zekeinim explains that after the letters flew away, the Tablets ceased to miraculously carry themselves and became very heavy. Moshe realized that every moment that he delayed his return to the camp, the people would continue sinning with the golden calf, so he reasoned that it was permissible to thrown down the heavy Tablets, which were slowing him down.

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh quotes an opinion of Chazal (Avos d’Rav Nosson 2:3) that Hashem explicitly commanded Moshe to break the Tablets.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email