The Tabernacle, that is, the portable sanctuary that accompanied the Jewish people during their 40-year trek in the wilderness, was built through the donations of the Jewish people who donated all of the necessary building materials.
The Torah tells us ( Exodus 24:2):
ספר שמות פרק כה
ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה
Speak to the Children of Israel that they should take a donation for Me.
The Sages wonder about the words “take a donation.” Should it not say “give me a donation?”
One answer is that whenever we give charity, although we give money away, what we receive in return actually exceeds what we dispense. How is that?
The Talmud Tractate Taanit 9a quotes Rabbi Yochanan’s lesson derived from the verse in Deuteronomy (14:22).
דברים פרק יד פסוק כב
עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר אֵת כָּל תְּבוּאַת זַרְעֶךָ הַיֹּצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה שָׁנָה שָׁנָה
22) You shall surely tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, year by year.
When expressing the instructions to tithe, the Torah doubles the verb “tithe”- עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר. Addressing this anomaly, Rabbi Yochanan points out that the second word can also be read to mean “become rich.” Rabbi Yochanan therefore taught:
ואמר רבי יוחנן: מאי דכתיב עשר תעשר? עשר בשביל שתתעשר
“The Torah is teaching us that one should give his tenth in order to become rich.”
The Talmud continues with the following story:
אשכחיה רבי יוחנן לינוקא דריש לקיש. אמר ליה, אימא לי פסוקיך. אמר ליה, עשר תעשר. אמר ליה, ומאי עשר תעשר? אמר ליה, עשר בשביל שתתעשר! אמר ליה, מנא לך? אמר ליה, זיל נסי! אמר ליה, ומי שרי לנסוייה להקדוש ברוך הוא? והכתיב לא תנסו את ה’. אמר ליה, הכי אמר רבי הושעיא חוץ מזו, שנאמר הָבִיאוּ אֶת כָּל הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל בֵּית הָאוֹצָר וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזֹאת, אָמַר יְדֹוָד צְבָאוֹת ,אִם לֹא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וַהֲרִיקֹתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה עַד בְּלִי דָי!
Rabbi Yochanan met Reish Lakish’s son and after hearing the same lesson from him asked him: “Who says?” The kid answered, “Go try it!” Rabbi Yochanan then asked him, “Is one permitted to test Hashem? There is an explicit verse prohibiting it!” The boy responded with a quote from Rabbi Hoshea who said, “Charity is an exception, based on the verse in Malachi (3:10) which says: “Bring all the tithes into the storage house, and let it be sustenance in My Temple. Test Me, if you will, with this, says Hashem, Master of Legions, see if I do not open up for you the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you blessing without end.”
So, if, for giving charity, Hashem promises us “blessing without end,” one who gives charity will actually receive much more than he gave. This is why it says “take a donation” because in the end you will take much more than you give.
A second explanation of why the Torah said “take a donation” is that when giving money to charity we actually “take for ourselves” the very money that we donated. Sounds like “eating your cake and having it too!” something we’ve been told is impossible! How can that be?
The answer is that we are here talking about taking it with us when we leave this world. When one dies, he leaves all of his material possessions behind. The only possessions that we take with us to the next world are the Torah that we’ve learned and mitzvot that we have performed. That’s it. Thus, the only money that one can really take with him is the money that he gave to charity. In this case, the smaller his remaining bank account (because of charitable gifts), the wealthier he is! His donated money has been transformed into a spiritual mitzvah and has been deposited into his bank account in the world to come where it is waiting for him.
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen Kagan, d. 1933) gave the following parable:
A man was summoned to the king with very serious charges levelled against him. He went to his best friend and asked him to accompany him to the king and testify on his behalf. His friend flatly refused and told him he could not come. He went next to his lesser friend, and asked him to accompany him to the king. This friend told him, “I will come with you up to the gates of the king’s palace, but, more than that, I cannot do.” In desperation, he went to a third person that wasn’t so close to him, but maybe would be able to help. This friend replied, “Sure! I will go with you to the king! I will plead your case and get you off the hook!” Sure enough, he went with him, testified on his behalf, and got him a good judgment from the king.
The Chofetz Chiam explains that we will all be summoned to the king when we finish our stay on this earth. The first friend we will go to, to help us is our wealth and possessions, the things we were so busy acquiring most of our lives. But, necessarily remaining here, they can’t accompany us to the king. The next place we go, is to our relatives, who tell us, “we will take you to the grave, but we cannot go any further than that.” The last place we go to is to our Torah and Mitzvot, the things that perhaps we did not give too much importance to, but nevertheless, they accompany and represent us to the king, and successfully get us off the hook.
Rabbi Samson Wertheimer (1658-1724) was King Leopold of Austria’s finance minister who entrusted him with all of the kingdom’s financial secrets. A certain bishop won the king’s favor and could not bear to see Rav Samson, the Jew, in such a position of honor and trust. He tried everything he could to discredit Rav Samson in the king’s eyes, but to no avail.
The bishop once came to the king and said: “Your majesty, there is a Jew whom you have trusted with all the wealth of the kingdom. Do you know if he is faithful and honest? I will prove that he is making himself rich at the king’s expense. I bribed his bookkeeper, who gave me a copy of his books. I didn’t believe my eyes when I saw how much money he has. Let the king ask him how much he is worth and see what he answers. If his answer conforms with the number on the books, I will also admit that he is an honest man, and never bother you about him again. But if he states a sum less than what’s on the books, you will know immediately that he is a swindler and you must send him to his immediate death.”
The king thought, “I have nothing to lose in this proposition. If he is honest, I get the bishop off my neck, and if he isn’t, I want him dead.”
He agreed to the deal and had a fire prepared just in case it would be needed. He instructed the guards at the fire: If a person should come and ask you in the king’s name, “Have you fulfilled the mission of the king?” you are to take that person, no matter who he is, and throw him directly into the fire without any questions.
After all was set, the king invited Rav Samson to his chambers for a consultation. The king led the conversation to Rav Samson’s personal welfare. “Do you receive suitable pay for your devoted service? About how much is your personal wealth my good friend?” the king asked very matter-of-factly.
“Does the king want to know the exact amount? That would be difficult to estimate on the spot.” Responded Rav Samson.
“I don’t mean to the exact gulden,” the king said, “Tell me how much are you sure you have.”
Rav Samson thought a minute and then told the king a sum. The king could hardly restrain his astonishment. Rav Samson gave him a number roughly ten percent of the amount on the books. It looked as if the bishop was right. His finance minister had obviously succeeded in fooling him into thinking he was honest. With that, the king sent Rav Samson to the fire to ask the hangmen if they had fulfilled the mission of the king.
Rav Samson set out without a clue that he was on his way to his certain death. On the way to the fire, a Jew came up to him and said. “Rav Samson, aren’t you a mohel?”
“Yes!” responded Rav Samson.
“I have an eight-day old baby boy who needs to have his Brit Milah today. I invited a mohel, but he is not feeling well, and does not feel up to doing it. Everything is prepared and ready, could you please come and do it?”
“The king has sent me on an errand, how can I delay it?” asked Rav Samson.
“And I have a mission from the King of Kings, Hashem, which also must not be delayed!” responded the father.
Rav Samson could not disagree with the logic of the Jew and went with him to perform the Brit Milah.
After the ceremony, a festive meal was served and wine was drunk. As soon as Rav Samson drank a cup of wine, he felt a little dizzy, and lay down for a while and soon fell asleep. No one wanted to awaken the honored guest, and he slept for a few hours.
In the meantime, the bishop heard that his plan had worked and that Rav Samson was sent to the fire to his certain death. He was so excited that he could not sleep, so he decided that he would go to the fire himself, maybe he could still see some of the Jew’s bones burning in the fire.
When the bishop arrived at the fire, he said to the guards. “I have come to see with my own eyes if you have fulfilled the mission of the king?”
“Aha! We have been waiting for you!” exclaimed the hangmen. With that, they grabbed the bishop and threw him right into the fire!
Rav Samson woke up, and hurried home, arriving after midnight, feeling bad that he had to defer the king’s mission until morning. When he arrived home, he found his house in an uproar. His family were all worried about him, because all his assets had been sealed by the king.
After praying Shacharit the next morning, Rav Samson hurried to the fire to complete his mission. He asked the hangmen. “Did you fulfill the mission of the king?”
“Yes!” They answered. “We carried out our orders to the letter. You should have heard that bishop yelling and screaming: ‘No! You have the wrong man!’ but we obeyed the instructions of the king and did not listen to a word he said. We just threw him right in.”
Rav Samson thanked them, and then, quickly ran back to the palace to report his findings to the king. When Rav Samson appeared before the king, the king looked at him as if he was looking at a ghost. After excusing his tardiness, Rav Samson reported to the king that his command had indeed been fulfilled, and that the bishop was thrown into the fire according to the king’s orders. On the other hand, Rav Samson asked the king why all his property was confiscated.
The king suddenly broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He laughed so hard he could barely stand. He then embraced Rav Samson and held him close to his heart as he continued to laugh until tears came to his eyes. Rav Samson had no idea what was going on, but waited patiently until the king came to himself.
Finally, after the king calmed down, he told Rav Samson the whole story of the bishop’s accusation against him, and that Rav Samson had miraculously escaped certain death.
“I see from this that you are a righteous, G-dly man, whose G-d has saved you from unjustified death. But tell me, why did you lie to me when I asked you how much you were worth?”
“G-d forbid!” exclaimed Rav Samson. “I would never lie to the king! When the king asked me how much I am sure I have, I could not state the amount on the books. That is not definitely mine. Here, only yesterday I had that amount and today the king has confiscated everything. The only possessions I am sure I have are the ones that I have given to charity. They can never be taken away from me. I am used to giving one tenth of my wealth to charity, and therefore, that is the amount I told the king. “
The king was extremely pleased with Rav Samson’s explanation and then said.
“There is no question of your integrity, and therefore I grant you your possessions back. But, please tell me what I can do for you to repay you for the unpleasantness I have caused you.”
“I don’t need anything for myself,” responded Rav Samson, “But the Jewish community in Vienna are in need of a larger synagogue where they can join together to pray.”
The king granted his wish and the shul came to be known as “Rav Samson’s Shul.”
Harav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach זצ”ל (1899-2001) gives yet another explanation as to why regarding the mitzvah of charity, the Torah uses the word take instead of give.
He explains that to perform the mitzvah of charity properly, one must give the money to a worthy cause. If a person gives money where it is not needed, or to something that is not a holy cause, he has wasted his money. How does one merit to give his money to a proper and worthy charity? By doing his homework and putting forth effort to determine what is worthy of his money. Only after a person has done his due diligence will Hashem bless his efforts and guide him to the correct and worthy places to give his money.
This concept is based on the Talmud in Tractate Sukkah 49b, which says:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף מט/ב
שמא תאמר כל הבא לקפוץ קופץ תלמוד לומר מה יקר חסדך אלהים
Rabbi Elazar said: Maybe, you will think that anyone who wishes to give charity can do it? That is why the verse says, “How dear (rare) is your kindness, Hashem.”
What does the Talmud mean by this?
שמא כל הבא לקפוץ – ולעשות צדקה וחסד קופץ, ומספיקין וממציאין לו אנשים מהוגנים לכך תלמוד לומר מה יקר צריך לתת לב ולטרוח ולרדף אחריה, לפי שאינה מצויה תמיד לזכות בה למהוגנים
You may think that anyone who wishes to do acts of charity and kindness can do it, and Heaven will provide him with worthy people to give his charity to. That is why the verse says, “Charity is very dear and rare.” One must pay close attention and toil to determine what is real charity and then run after it, because it’s not so prevalent to find worthy recipients for one’s charity.
This is how giving charity to the Tabernacle is really taking. The donor is receiving the blessing of Hashem to enable him to give his charity to a worthy cause.
A student, passing his Rosh Yeshiva’s (teacher’s) house in Jerusalem, decided to stop in for a visit. He was shocked to find his teacher writhing in pain on the couch. “Rebbe, let me call an ambulance for you! You look like you are in so much pain!”
“No, it is not a physical ailment that I am suffering from; don’t call an ambulance. There is nothing that they can do for me!” said his teacher.
“Then, what is it? What is causing you so much anguish and pain?” asked the student. The Rosh Yeshiva decided to relate to his student the source of his pain, thinking that maybe telling it to someone will help him deal with it.
“About five years ago, I received a phone call from the King David Hotel telling me that a certain guest, Mr. Mark Goldfinger, wanted to meet with me. Could I please bring my passport and come down to the hotel to meet with him? I remembered Mark Goldfinger. He was a classmate of mine in the Yeshiva in Chicago back in the day. He had pretty much left his Yeshiva education behind him, and had gone on to become a business man. Now he wanted to meet with me. What could he possibly want with a Rosh Yeshiva? I decided to go meet with him.
When I arrived at the hotel, he was sitting at a table in the corner, and I went to sit with him. He told me that his health is failing and that he realizes that his days are numbered. He had done very well in business, but he had no children to whom to leave his wealth. He decided he wanted to leave all his money to yeshivot, and he wanted me to be the one to determine which yeshivot would receive it since I am a Rosh Yeshiva and am knowledgeable in this area.
I asked him, “Why must you wait until you die to give the money? Give it now while you are alive! I will guide you, and then you will have the merit of the charity during your lifetime. It is worth much more! It may even prolong your life!” He would not hear of it, and the more I pressed it, the more agitated he became. I realized it was a dead end. In the end, they took my passport number and wrote in the will that I would be the one to determine which yeshivot would receive the money from his estate.
This morning they called me from the Office of the Interior and asked me if I remember Mr. Mark Goldfinger. I said I do, and they told me that he passed away and that I was named in his will to give out his money. Would I please bring my passport and come down to their offices? I went down, and they checked my passport against the information in the will, and it checked out.
Then they opened the door and in walked 15 monks, with the long brown robes and shaved heads. They asked me to choose from the monks which should receive the money. I was incredulous. “Monks?! Monks?! What are they doing here? He wanted his money to go to yeshivot!! He spoke to me about it! That is why he chose me!!”
“In his will he wrote that his money was to go to people that study the bible, not the Talmud. These are the people who study bible.”
“He wanted it to go to Yeshivot!!” I persisted, but to no avail. They would not budge. They had to fulfill the will as they saw fit.”
That is why I am in so much pain. I can’t get over the loss of all that money to the Yeshivot and it going to the monks! I don’t know what to do with myself.”
This story illustrates the point of Harav Shach זצ”ל. One must have the merit to give to the right charity. This person thought that he would be able to earn reward in the world to come for his charity to the Yeshivot, but, because he lacked the proper merit, it went to the monks.
The money that Hashem gives us is precious. He has entrusted us with it, and, as His executors, He expects us to give it to His worthy causes. With it we can earn a place in the world to come, but we must first be worthy. This is the gift that Hashem gives to those who take the matter seriously and do their homework on where to give their money. Hashem rewards them with the blessing to give their charity to worthy institutions. The Torah thus counter-intuitively, yet quite correctly, formulates the giving of charity as “Take for Me.”