Parashat Teruma: Spiritual Currency
Parashat Teruma begins with the command, "Ve’yikhu Li Teruma," instructing Beneh Yisrael to donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan. Curiously, rather than commanding Beneh Yisrael to "give" or "donate" materials, G-d commands them to "take a donation." And the question is obvious: how does one "take" a donation? Why did Hashem formulate the command in this fashion?
David Ha’melech famously proclaims in Tehillim (49:18), "Ki Lo Be’moto Yikah Ha’kol" – a person does not bring any of his material assets with him to the next world. In Jewish tradition, a dead body is buried in plain, simple shrouds with no pockets, emphasizing the point that no matter how much wealth a person accumulates in this world, he takes none of it with him to the next world. He leaves this world empty-handed. The currency in this world, whether it’s the U.S. dollar, the Euro, or the Israeli shekel, has no value whatsoever in the next world.
The only thing a person takes with him in his spiritual currency – his Torah and Misvot. This cannot be seen, but it – and only it – accompanies a person on his final journey to the next world, where it has enormous value.
A king once asked Baron Rothschild how much he was worth. Rothschild gave a number that was around one-tenth of his true worth.
"What?!" the king exclaimed. "You’re trying to fool me? I know you’re worth at least ten times that!"
"No," the Baron replied. "You asked me what I am worth, not what my property is worth. True, my assets are worth ten times as much as what I said, but that is not my worth. All that can be taken away from me in an instant. My worth is only the charity I have given. Those are the only assets that can never be taken away from me."
People bring their money to the bank for safekeeping. Rather than risk losing the cash, they deposit it in their bank account so it will be secure and they can access it later. This is what we are doing every time we give charity. We are depositing our money in the safest savings account imaginable. It is ensured not by the FDIC, but by the Almighty Himself. The Rabbi or collector to whom we give the donation is the like the teller. When we give money to the bank teller, we know we are not really giving it to him or her; the teller is just transferring the funds for us into our account. Similarly, the money we give to charity, every penny of it, is deposited straight into our heavenly account.
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) once asked, "If there are ten birds on a rooftop, and we shoot two of them, how many remain on the roof?"
Naturally, his audience replied that eight birds remain on the roof.
The Rabbi noted that this is incorrect. The moment the shots are fired, all the other birds fly away. The only birds that remain on the roof are the dead ones.
He proceeded to explain that this is true of money, as well. Whatever money we have can so easily "fly away." It is said that money has wings, and we have seen this happen many times. People can go to sleep wealthy and wake up poor if their assets devaluate overnight. Ironically, the only assets that we really keep, that stay on the roof, are the "dead" ones – the assets we donate to charitable causes. These are secure and guaranteed to remain with us for all eternity.
In this vein, the Ben Ish Hai explained the otherwise peculiar expression, "Ve’yikhu Li Teruma." When one makes a charitable donation, when one contributes toward the "Mishkan," he is receiving, not giving. He is depositing those funds in his own account in the most secure and profitable "savings plan" possible, and earning greater dividends than any other investment could ever yield.