Parashat Teruma: Sincere Charity
Parashat Teruma begins with G-d’s command to Beneh Yisrael that they should donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan: “Ve’yikhu Li Teruma.” Rashi, commenting to this verse, notes that G-d here instructs the people to make a donation “Li,” or “for Me,” and Rashi explains this to mean “Li’Shmi” – “for My Name.” Beneh Yisrael were commanded to not only give donations, but to do “for G-d’s Name.”
What exactly does this mean? How does one give a charitable donation “Li’Shmi” – for G-d’s Name?
One explanation is based on the Kabbalistic tradition that whenever one gives charity, he “constructs” the divine Name, as it were. The coin or bill that a person gives corresponds to the letter Yod, and he holds it in his hand, which has five fingers and thus corresponds to the letter Heh (which has the numerical value of 5). The donor then outstretches his arm, which is long and straight like the letter Vav, and places the donation in the recipient’s hand, which corresponds to the letter Heh. Thus, by giving a charitable donation, one spells out the letters “Yod,” “Heh,” “Vav” and “Heh,” thereby forming the divine Name of Havaya. Rashi alludes to this deep concept when he comments that donations should be given “Li’Shmi” – “for G-d’s Name,” as the donation has the effect of spelling out the divine Name.
There is, however, another, simpler, explanation of Rashi’s comment, which can be understood in light of a story told of a certain Hassidic Rebbe who received a visit from a destitute man asking for charity. The Rebbe promptly pulled out a gold coin from his drawer and handed it to the pauper. The poor man was amazed at the Rebbe’s generosity, and thought maybe he was making a mistake and did not actually intend to give him a gold coin. The Rebbe said he did not make a mistake, and so the poor man quickly thanked him and left, before the Rebbe had a chance to change his mind.
A few moments later, the Rebbe told his assistant to run after the poor man and bring him back to his home. When the assistant caught up to the man, the man thought to himself, “I knew it was too good to be true. The Rebbe did not really mean to give me such a large donation!” Brokenhearted, the man returned to the Rebbe, who welcomed him and proceeded to pull out yet another gold coin and give it to him. The man was in utter disbelief. He once again thanked the Rebbe effusively, and left.
The assistant turned to the Rebbe and asked for an explanation. Why did he first give one gold coin, and then call the man back to give him another?
“When this fellow first came to me,” the Rebbe explained, “I was immediately taken aback by his appearance. He looked so famished and helpless, that I took one look at him, and my heart went out to him. I had to give him a gold coin because I was overcome by pity and compassion. But after he left, I decided I needed to give another donation purely for the sake of the Misva of Sedaka. The first coin I gave him was out of pity; the second was to fulfill the Misva.”
Certainly, one fulfills the Misva of charity regardless of his motives. In fact, even if somebody accidentally drops some money and it is found by a needy person, he fulfills the Misva. Nevertheless, as this story shows, there is a higher level of giving charity sincerely “Li’Shmi,” for G-d’s sake, to obey His command. It is worthy to be filled with compassion and a desire to help, but in addition, one should also have in mind to give purely for the sake of G-d, to fulfill the Misva.
In our community, many Chinese auctions are held to raise funds for worthwhile causes. These are certainly wonderful events, and a tribute to our community, and the organizers and participants undoubtedly fulfill a great Misva by raising money for charity. We should remember, however, that this is not the highest level of Sedaka. When somebody purchases tickets at a Chinese auction, he hopes in the back of his mind to win something. And thus although he fulfills the Misva of charity, he does not fulfill the Misva on the level of “Li’Shmi” – purely for the sake of G-d. I know some people who, when they participate in Chinese auctions, purchase one ticket for somebody else, in addition to the other tickets, so that they will have made at least one donation purely for the sake of the Misva. This is certainly a praiseworthy practice, as it ensures that one not only fulfills the great Misva of Sedaka, but does so on the highest level, the level of “Li’Shmi.” As laudable as charity always is, we should strive to reach the highest standards of this Misva, and make sure that at least some of the donations we give are given purely and sincerely, out of a genuine desire to serve our Creator.