When what we own is not really oursTeruma, Exodus 25:1-27:19

When what we own is not really oursTeruma, Exodus 25:1-27:19

Of the things we own, what is really ours? And what decisions do we make regarding the things in our ownership?
Contemplating this idea is the focal point of our parsha this Shabbat. In Parshat Teruma, God instructs the Israelites to “bring gifts for me.” The word translated as “bring” literally means “take.” What is the difference, then, between “bring gifts for me” and “take gifts for me?”
The traditional answer is that God is informing us that what we think is ours is not really — our wealth and possessions are actually just on loan to us from God. We are the stewards of these goods and we have to do what is right with them.
So, when God says, “Take gifts for me,” we are really being told, “Take from what is mine and use it in a particular way.” In this parsha, we are given the opportunity to pick from the things that God has entrusted to us, to allocate them for use in building the mishkan — the travelling sanctuary.
We have to make similar decisions all the time. What of our possessions do we generally use however we see fit, that we can put to good use and increase the godliness in the world by doing so?
One easy answer is our money. We often view tzedaka as something we choose to do with our money. We choose whether or not to give. Teruma teaches us that this is not really the choice we get to make. Our money is on loan to us. Unfortunately, many people know all too well how temporary our possession of money can be. It is more accurate to say that we are each the manager of God’s family foundation. When we give tzedaka, it is the fulfillment of the guidelines set up for the foundation rather than a choice. The choice we do have is in deciding where the money is to be allocated; what beneficiary is there in need of this money?
We should all take this responsibility seriously. Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter of Ger, living in Poland in the 19th century, asserted that the giving of donations was not to obtain the outcome of God dwelling in the midst of the people, but rather to sanctify God’s name, what we would call a Kiddush HaShem. We, through our decisions, have an opportunity to fulfill God’s desire of restoring the world to a place of perfection. We can all play our part by allocating God’s possessions in the way expected of us.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)