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Parashat Mishpatim

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Teruma 5760/2000

"G-d Requires the Heart": On Contributions from the Heart --

Yidvenu libbo (Ex. 25:2)

Boaz Spiegel

Department of Talmud

At the beginning of this week's portion we read that G-d commanded Moses regarding contributions, saying: "And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, ..." (Ex. 25:3-4). These contributions comprised the basis for building the Tabernacle, as it is written (v. 8), "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."

Considering that the Tabernacle is none other than a place for the Divine Presence to dwell on earth, it might seem surprising why such precious materials were needed; why were the Israelites required to provide gold and silver and precious stones? A variety of sources, biblical[1] and talmudic[2] alike, teach us that the Divine Presence dwells precisely in lowly, humble places, and has no need of a place of magnificence and glory.

To answer this question we must step back and look briefly at the subject of free choice and the place of emotions and the heart in free choice, both in life in general and in performance of the commandments in particular.

Regarding the choice between good and bad, it is generally viewed in the literature on morality and philosophy that at the first stage of the world's existence everything was given over to human intelligence, and save for a few isolated commands given by G-d (not to eat from the tree of knowledge, which according to the midrash subsumes the "seven commandments of the sons of Noah"), man's intelligence defined what is good and what is bad. In other words, G-d expected the creature known as the human being to choose the good according to what his intelligence and understanding indicated was good, in all that concerned personal life and proper human relations. So we read in Leviticus Rabbah (9.3): "For twenty-six generations proper behavior (derekh eretz) preceded the Torah," by which the Sages meant that even in the period preceding the giving of the Torah mankind in general was required to act with human decency, with derekh eretz; in other words, to be upright and proper in their ways with other human beings. If they did not live up to these expectations, they were considered to have sinned.

The first human being to stand out far above and beyond all others in choosing good lived in the twentieth generation: Abraham. The prophet Ezekiel attests, "Abraham was but one man" (Ezek. 33:24), meaning here, too, that he knew to behave most properly regarding his own self and his relations with other human beings.

Choosing between good and bad is essentially a function of internal struggle, of confrontations that take place within the person. In the mind and consciousness a person knows, or is supposed to know, what is required, what is good, what is moral. But a person's will, impulses, desires, sometimes act against him, pulling him in the other direction. The struggle essentially is between the mind and the heart, between the intellect and the emotions and desires. A person who chooses the good essentially puts intellect over emotions, make the heart subordinate to the mind.[3] Since the essence of a person's life lies in choosing the good, and since choosing the good depends on the extent to which a person has control over his heart, the Sages said: "G-d requires the heart, as it is written, 'The Lord sees into the heart' (I Sam. 16:7)." In other words, a person should subordinate his heart and subdue it, whenever his heart gets in the way of choosing the good.[4]

Little wonder, therefore, that Abraham's excellence in the matter of free choice is stressed precisely by Nehemiah speaking of God "finding his [Abraham's] heart true before You." (Neh.9:8) This indicates that he performed his obligations in all that was required of him, willingly from his heart.[5] Likewise, the righteous who succeed in choosing the good are said to have "their heart under their control" (Gen. Rabbah 34.10); and the truly wise person is said to be "wise of heart,"[6] a wise person who makes his wisdom rule over his heart.[7]

All that we have said above in respect of mankind in general takes a decided turn with respect to the Israelite people at the Theophany on Mount Sinai. Since then G-d gradually added many other indicators of what is considered good and what is bad, both with respect to relations between G-d and man and with respect to relations between one man and another, namely the 613 commandments, with all their rules and stipulations. Ever since the Torah was given, each person is required to make his intelligence rule over his heart, in the broad variety of options open to him; as it is written in Scripture and as we say three times a day in our prayers: "Know therefore this day and keep in mind [lit. in your heart] that the Lord alone is G-d in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Human worship is primarily "service of the heart," in the sense of subduing the heart and its desires to the choice of the mind.

Now let us return to the question we asked at the outset. Why does G-d need gold, silver, and precious stones in order to have His presence dwell among us? Silver and gold belong to the type of things that a person's soul covets, that one does not part from easily, especially when the silver does not go to serve one's own personal needs. For good reason, "especially must Scripture urge on the fulfillment of commands in a case where monetary loss is involved."[8] Thus, when the Israelites were commanded to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle, this contribution surely aroused inner conflict in each and every person between their mind and their heart. The mind urged them to fulfill the command, but the heart found it difficult to witness the "loss" of one's silver and belongings, preferring to give as small a contribution as possible. The contributions to the Tabernacle, so it turns out, consisted not only of gold and silver and other precious materials; the most precious thing "given" here was actually the heart of each person who contributed. Therefore parashat Teruma stresses the phrase "whose heart so moves him," because the essence of the contribution lay in giving of one's heart, in conquering one's heart on the most fundamental level, in making one's heart ready and willing, out of love for the Lord and His commandments.[9]

Precisely since free choice between good and bad is the essence of human life, and precisely since choosing is actually a matter of making the mind rule over the heart, precisely for this reason the Israelites were commanded to contribute gold and silver and other such things, so that each and every person, according to his ability, would subdue his heart and make it serve his Father in Heaven. This service of the heart, which found expression in the contributions given to the Tabernacle, is what formed the basis for the Divine Presence dwelling amongst us; this finest of human endeavors was rewarded by closeness to G-d.

[1] For example: Is. 57:15: "I dwell on high, in holiness; yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit." Also cf. Psalms 34:19 and 51:19.

[2] Suffice it to cite one example, namely Mount Sinai having been chosen for the place to give the Torah because of its not being lofty. Cf. Megillah 29a; Sotah 5a; Genesis Rabbah 13.3.

[3] This is the picture which prevails in morality literature on free choice. Looking closer, however, it turns out that this struggle is essentially between the soul and the body, between the spiritual part and the physical part of man. For further reading on the essence of choice, cf. R. A.A. Dessler, Mikhtav me-Eliyahu, Jerusalem, 1979, vol. I, Kontras ha-Behirah, Part I, pp. 111-120; Part II, pp. 278-283; vol. 3, pp. 180-183.

[4] Some have said that also at Mount Sinai the Holy One, blessed be He, taught us in this regard. For according to tradition (Shabbat 88a): "The Holy One, blessed be He, compelled them by holding the mountain over their heads and saying to them, 'If you accept the Torah, then good; and if not,then here shall be your graves." In this miraculous event G-d sought to teach future generations that the main point in man's labors, the main point in "receiving the Torah" and performing its commandments, is in being coerced by the "mountain." In other words, in subduing one's evil inclination, which is like a mountain in the heart of man. Cf. R. D. Sperber, Resp. Afarkesta d-Anya, Satu-Mare (Satmar), 5700 (1900), end of the introduction.

[5] On the self-control that Abraham cultivated, cf. R. A. Miller, Am Segulah, Hebrew ed., Bene Beraq, 1996, pp. 24-25.

[6] This phrase, hakham-lev, appears many times in the readings on the Tabernacle (Tetzave, Ki-Tisa). Even Solomon, the wisest of all men, requested of G-d (I Kings 3:9), "Grant, then, Your servant an understanding mind [lit. heart] to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and bad," and G-d granted him a "wise and discerning mind [lit. heart]" (v. 12). Scholars of Jewish ethics viewed the heart as the seat of the emotions and the will, and in this light explained these texts to refer to a heart that is ruled by the intellect, thus making the choice between good and bad both easy and correct.

[7] In this regard it should be added that the scholars of Jewish ethics expanded greatly on this, stressing that making one's wisdom reign depends to no small extent on being G-d-fearing. Cf. for example R. Y. L. Hasman, Or Yahel, Part III, Jerusalem 1973, Va-Yaqhel -- Pekudei, s.v. "Yir'at Hashem hi hokhmah", pp. 135-136.

[8] Rashi, on Lev. 6:2, citing Sifra, loc. sit.

[9] Cf. R. Jacob Kranz (The Maggid of Dubno), Ohel Ya'akov, revised ed., Jerusalem 1989, Teruma, pp. 202-203; R. A. Levin, Ha-Darshan ve-ha-Iyyun, Part II, New York, 1969, Teruma, art. 206, pp. 270-271; R. E. Lapian, Lev Eliyahu, Jerusalem, 1979, Parashat Mishpatim, pp. 197-198.

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