“Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing
inside the ark the Pact that I will give you” (Exodus 25:21).
Parashat Trumah begins,” The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel that they take me a t’rumah, a gift; take t’rumati, my gift, from every person whose heart so moves him” (Ex. 25:1-2). It continues by providing the many detailed instructions for building the mishkan, or Tabernacle.
The language of the opening verses is puzzling: the command is to the Children of Israel (plural) but the request is for a gift (singular). The command is not to bring a gift but to take a gift. And the command is for the gift to come from the heart, voluntarily. These seeming contradictions have spawned a cottage industry of commentary on gift giving.
One interpretation claims God is the gift; when the Israelites bring the necessary materials and build the mishkan (designed to house the Ten Commandments) they also acquire God (Exodus Rabba 33:6). Chassidic thought builds on this idea by claiming a foolish person believes he is the giver when he gives to charity, whereas a wise person knows he is the receiver when he gives to charity. Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883; Lithuanian rabbi and founder of the Musar movement) uses the juxtaposition of the words “give” and “gift” to remind the giver to always consider how it feels to be the receiver.
These commentaries share the understanding giving is not a superficial, unidirectional act; its benefits flow in both directions simultaneously. Cultivating spontaneous generosity and orienting your heart to the needs of others opens up a space, a mishkan, for God within you. And that is certainly a gift.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom