Parashat Terumah

Deeds, not Words

Parashat Terumah includes the details for constructing the sanctuary in the desert and begins with the request for an offering to support this effort.

Why does the parasha open with this request? In order to be able to answer the question, we must refer to the previous Torah reading. Last week, in the last verses of Parashat Mishpatim, we heard the people of Israel say, "All that the Lord has said we will do and obey." (Exodus 24:7).

The Gemara (Eruvin 65b) tells us (by a wonderful play on words "b'koso, b'kyo ub'kaaso) that man may be known through three things: his cup, his purse and his anger.

A man's personality is revealed in these three situations: if you want to know a person, see how he behaves after drinking one too many cups of wine. What is the nature of his gayety? (The Gemara also says "wine enters, secrets leave" (Eruvin 65a) and it is worth noting that "wine" and "secret" are both 70 according to Gematria).

Do you want to get to know a person? Pay attention to his behavior when he is angry. To what extent is he able to exercise self restraint? What is his temperament and you will come to know him through his temper.

Do you want to get to know a person? Ask him for money! You will then see the nature of his generosity and his concern for the needs of others. You can get to know him when you come to understand why he opens his purse, to gamble or to give to charity.

Again, why does our parasha open with the request for offerings to build the sanctuary? It appears that G-d wants to understand the nature of the people that only a week ago said "We will do and obey". You say "We will do and obey"? Open your purses! I will come to know your true nature by your attitude to money.

It is as if G-d says, "Standing at Mt. Sinai was very exciting, but the real test is now: only now will I understand how much you believe in the words that were said there, and what is the real distance between the written record and reality.

We can learn more about this idea by a more modern example, the history of the peace agreements signed by Israel and the Arab states. I remember when the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed, I was nine years old and the world stood still for two hours. I was then in the fourth grade in a Jewish school in Buenos Aires, all lessons were stopped and we all sat opposite the one black and white 14 inch television and witnessed that historic moment. The second ceremony that I remember, between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 I watched by myself at home. The third ceremony between Israel and Jordan in 1994 I watched by myself, on and off. I don't even remember if I watched the fourth ceremony at all. I don't remember when it was and I think it was scarcely mentioned in the news. Today, every sensible person understands that a ceremony is a ceremony and nothing more than that. Ceremonies and declarations are important things, but behind the ceremonial must lie honest and serious intentions.

Our parasha which deals with the building of the sanctuary shortens the distance between the world of words and the world of deeds. "We will listen and obey" was only an impressive declaration. But declarations do not make history unless they are followed by deeds. G-d himself hints at the beginning of our parasha that the stage of words only has ended.

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