Parashat Teruma: Clean Money
Parashat Teruma begins with the command to Beneh Yisrael that they should donate materials, including precious metals such as gold and silver, for the construction of the Mishkan. The word "Teruma," for which the Parasha is named, is used in reference to this donation that the people were instructed to make.
Various explanations have been offered for the deep meaning and significance of this word and its usage in this context. One approach is that the letters of the word "Teruma" also spell the word "Ha’mutar," which means, "that which is permissible." G-d wants us to donate only clean money – money that has been earned through permissible means.
There are many examples of ill-begotten gains that should not be used for charitable donations, especially not for donating to a sacred institution like the Mishkan, or the modern-day equivalents, synagogues and yeshivot. If a person earns money from owning or running a casino, then his money is not clean. If a person earns money by selling inappropriate merchandise, such as pornographic material, then his money is not clean. If a person earns money by working on Shabbat or allowing his business to run on Shabbat, then his money is not clean. If a person earns money through dishonest means, by cheating or defrauding people, then his money is not clean. Any donation he makes will not be a legitimate "Teruma." To the contrary, it will fall under the category of "Misva Ha’ba’a Ba’abera" – a Misva performed via sinful conduct, which is not considered a Misva at all.
Last week’s Parasha, Parashat Mishpatim, presents numerous laws, most of which have to do with commerce and financial relationships between people. In that context, the Torah presents the Misva to lend to a poor person in need of a loan (22:24). The Torah is alluding to us that charitable donations must be made within the framework of honest and upright financial dealings. One must first ensure to obey all the Torah’s laws regarding money before he can donate to charity. If one’s money is tarnished by sin, acquired through inappropriate, sinful and corrupt means, then it is not suitable for charity.
Later in Parashat Teruma (25:31), the Torah introduces the command to build a Menora in the Bet Ha’mikdash, and instructs that it be made "Zahab Tahor Miksha" – from a single block of pure gold. It has been suggested that this phrase teaches us a fundamental axiom about money. "Zahab Tahor" – earning "pure gold," money that is not tainted by sin, is "Miksha," a very difficult goal to achieve. The reason why people so frequently err in this regard, and commit grave Torah violations such as Shabbat desecration and dishonesty in the pursuit of wealth, is because earning money cleanly is exceedingly difficult. It is far easier to make money by cutting corners, by violating the rules, and by stretching the truth. Part of Jewish faith is to firmly believe that G-d will care for us and provide us with our needs when we obey His laws. Therefore, we must never fall prey to the temptation to earn money through forbidden methods. Even when "Miksha," when we find it difficult to earn an honest living without breaking the Torah’s laws or violating the Torah’s value system, we must strictly adhere to our principles and strictly obey our ancient code of law. Only then will we be able to construct a "Mishkan" and bring holiness and Hashem’s presence into our lives.