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  • Yehuda Pevzner

A Billion Dollar Building

Two gentlemen, a Jew and a gentile, were marooned on a desert island. The gentile immediately got to work, dragging rocks to spell out “SOS” in huge letters on the beach, gathering driftwood to build a bonfire, and thinking about ways to build a boat.

The Jew, however, merely sat on the beach and waited.

“What’s the matter with you?” the gentile exclaimed. “Don’t you want to be rescued?”

The Jew said calmly, “Look, I live in a city with a big Jewish Federation. Last year, I donated a million dollars to them. The year before, I donated a million dollars to them. This year, wherever I am, they’ll find me!”

In this week’s Torah portion, the Jews are told to bring donations to be used for the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a temporary house for G-d, while the Jews were traveling in the desert. The giving of the donations plays such a prominent place in the Torah, to the point that the name of the Torah portion is “Terumah”, the Hebrew word for donation.

It’s pretty ironic. Imagine an organization running a huge fundraiser to build a billion-dollar building. Is the focus on the fundraiser, or on the end result? Of course, the whole point of the fundraiser is for the actual building! Why, then, is the Torah referring to this whole endeavor as “donation,” instead of a more apt name, such as “Binyan Hamishkan - Building of the Mishkan”?

There are two more explanations for the word Terumah: separation and uplifting. The outcome of building the Mishkan was to separate the good from the bad, and uplift it, and everyone involved to a higher place. With this explanation, Terumah is not just a means to an end, but the end, itself! And thus, a very appropriate term for the entire Torah portion.

The sages tell us that we are each required to make ourselves into a Mishkan for Hashem, through transforming our regular day-to-day lives into G-dliness and holiness. We do this by putting holy intent into what we do, and thus, uplifting everything around us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting time in NYC is on Friday before 5:23 PM.


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