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Home » Terumah

Terumah : Whose Money Is It Anyway?

Submitted by on January 10, 2005 – 4:09 amNo Comment | 2,452 views

The Tele-marketers and I

As I sat down for dinner, the telephone rang and I found myself responding to the third telemarketer of the evening. These calls came after a day spent digging through unsolicited e-mail from countless businesses and organizations. You can imagine my consternation when the doorbell rang as soon as I returned the phone to its cradle.

I opened the door to find a poor wretched man who, with an embarrassed smile and outstretched hand, asked for a donation. I was beyond my tolerance level and about to offer this “intruder’ a piece of my mind, when I remembered that this caller was different. The spammers and telemarketers wanted something from me but this man was offering something to me.

The Jewish tradition views charity as a merit that protects and elevates the donor to levels he could never reach on his own. The Talmud teaches that, “He who is compassionate to others will merit heavenly compassion.” The harshest heavenly decrees are reversed by the merit of charity. (1)

“No,” I told myself. “This man is not here to reap financial gain; he is here to offer me a reward of eternity.” Digging deeply into my pockets, I channeled my pent-up resentment into positive action. I invested my pocket change and purchased shares of eternity.

The Donor Giveth but Taketh Too

In our Parsha, G-d established a building campaign for the tabernacle in the desert and asked that Jews contribute generously.whose money is it anyway - innerstream Astonishingly, G-d did not instruct that contributions be given but that they be taken. (2) This is because G-d’s compensation to the donor far exceeds the amount of contribution. Once compensated, the donor is truly a receiver, more than he is a giver.

Through the prophets, G-d laid down a challenge to his people. “Bring your tithes to my storehouse so that there may be food in my house, and please test me in this, if I shall not open the windows of heaven and shower you with blessing to no end.” (3)

G-d promised great compensation for this Mitzvah, and invited us to test him on it. Our sages have taught, “Tithe so that you may prosper.” (4)

Noble Intentions

Yet there is a caveat. A careful reading of our Parsha’s text will demonstrate that this Mitzvah must be fulfilled for altruistic purposes rather than selfish gain. The wording of our Parsha is, “He shall take for me a contribution.” He who contributes will indeed take, he will find himself on the receiving end of great blessing but only if his intentions are pure, only if he gives, “for me,” for the sake of heaven.

Even the selfish donor will be compensated, but the windows of heaven shower blessing only upon those who contribute with pure intentions. (5) This is so because charity is more about helping the poor than it is about parting with money. One who reluctantly parts with hard-earned money but does so only in anticipation of reward is far less meritorious than one who gives with a sincere heart and a kind smile. (6)

An Act of Justice

Ten percent of our earnings belongs to charity. It is not ours to keep, but ours to give away.

The Hebrew word for charity is Tzedakah, which does not mean charity at all but justice. Torah does not view gifts to the poor as charitable; Torah views it as justice. G-d gives us ten percent more than we are meant to receive so that we can in turn share it with those who have less.

Sharing with the poor is justice. Keeping it for ourselves is simply theft.


    1. Bab. Talmud, Shabbos 151b.


  • Exodus 25, 2
  • Malchai 3, 10
  • Taanis 9a
  • See the Panim Yafos commentary to Exodus 25, 2 (R. Pinchas Horowitz 1730-1805 Frankfurt)
  • Bab. Talmud Baba Basra 9b. Maimonidies in Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 10, 4 Rules that one who contributes great sums of money but with a sour demeanor forfeits the Mitzvah. (R. Moshe ben Maimon 1135-1204 Egypt)



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