Judaism: G-d and Israel Reaching for Each Other
“HaShem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, that they will take for Me a donation; from every man whose heart inspires him you will take My donation” (Exodus 25:1-2).
With these words begins Israel’s construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – G-d’s dwelling-place in this world. The consensus among the commentators is that the commandment “they shall make a Sanctuary for Me” (verse 8) is not just a one-time commandment; rather, since the Mishkan in the wilderness was the prototype for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, this is a commandment throughout the generations to construct the Holy Temple (see the enumeration of the mitzvot of Mahara”m Hagiz at the beginning of the Parashah; Sefer ha-Chinuch, Mitzvah #95; Rambam, Laws of the Holy Temple 1:1).
The wording here is somewhat unusual, and laden with meaning. One peculiarity is the Torah’s choice of verb, “they will take a donation”. Would we not have expected the Torah to say “they will give a donation”?
The S’forno (Rabbi Ovadyah S’forno, Italy, c.1470-1550) interprets: “Tell Israel that I want treasury-collectors to collect donations for Me – and this is what Moshe did upon coming down from the Mountain, as the Torah says… ‘Moshe said to the entire community of the Children of Israel’ – which means the Sanhedrin – ‘take from yourselves a donation’ (Exodus 35:4-5)”.
The S’forno continues: “‘…from every man’ – He commanded them [the Sanhedrin] not to force them [the Children of Israel] to donate…but to collect only from volunteers”.
The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michael Weiser, Volhynia, Poland, Romania, France, and Ukraine, 1809-1879) says similarly: “‘They will take for Me a donation’ – … He did not say ‘they will give a donation’, because that would have constituted a positive commandment and an obligation upon everyone to give, but HaShem wanted this donation to be voluntary, given of free-will and not by coercion”.
The Midrash offers a startling and beautiful insight: “G-d said to Israel: I have sold you My Torah; so to speak I am sold with it, as it says ‘they will take for Me a donation’” (Sh’mot Rabbah 33:1).
Elsewhere, the Midrash expands: “‘They will take for Me a donation’ so that I will dwell among them; and ‘they shall make a Sanctuary for Me’ – it is as though G-d said: Take Me and I will dwell among you. He did not say ‘they will take a donation’ but ‘they will take for Me a donation’ – you thereby take Me” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:13).
And showing the unique greatness of this donation, another Midrash says: “G-d called the donation for the Mishkan by His own Name, as it says ‘They will take for Me a donation’” (Tanchuma, Terumah 1).
So let us now analyse the meaning of the word “terumah”, which we have translated here as “donation”.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808-1888) in his German translation and commentary of the Torah simply transliterated the word as “Teruma”, and explains it as coming from the root “rom” – “to be raised above something, hence ‘lifted up out of’, i.e., to be separated for some higher purpose”.
The Zohar (Ra’aya Meheimna Volume 3 [Numbers], Parashat Korach 179a) also relates the word “terumah” to the root “rom”.
The Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan both translate “terumah” into Aramaic as “afrashuta” – “that which is to be separated”, which Rashi and Rashbam both take as the meaning of “terumah”.
We now come to the purpose of the Mishkan (later of the Holy Temple). Its purpose is to sanctify and elevate Israel, to make them worthy of G-d’s blessing. As the Midrash says, “G-d does not infuse His Spirit upon Israel until they work for it, as it says ‘they shall make a Sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in their midst’ (Exodus 25:8)” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 20:9; Avot de-Rabbi Natan 11:1).
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain and Israel, 1195-c.1270) writes: “…The prime object in the Mishkan is the place wherein the Divine Presence rests, which is the Ark… And the secret of the Mishkan is that the Glory which was revealed at Mount Sinai would dwell concealed within it” (commentary to Exodus 25:1).
With all this as background, we now return to the verb “ve-yik’chu” (“they will take”). In order to understand this word fully, we turn to an abstruse detail of Hebrew grammar.
The root of the verb “to take” is lammed-kuf-chet (“lakach”), and in the form “ve-yik’chu” (“they will take”), the lammed has been absorbed into the kuf (in grammatical nomenclature, lammed nishmeta). To indicate this, there should be a dagesh (a dot) in the kuf (in grammatical nomenclature, tashlum dagesh). However, this dagesh in the kuf is missing. In some printed editions of the Torah, this missing dagesh is indicated by a raffeh (a horizontal line) above the kuf.
The Radak, in his lexicon Sefer ha-Shorashim (entry lakach), notes that this dagesh is sometimes missing, but gives no explanation why. None of the standard commentators mention this grammatical singularity.
I suggest the following explanation: by omitting the dagesh, the Torah ever so subtly hints at an ambiguity in the word “ve-yik’chu”. If it is from the root “lakach”, then it indeed means “they will take”. However, the missing dagesh suggests the root “kuf-chet”, kach, without the lammed. This word appears in Ezekiel 17:5, meaning “to be planted, to sprout forth” (following Rashi there; see also Sukkah 34a and Rashi there, s.v. kach al mayim).
By building the Mishkan – and later by building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – Israel sprouts forth and blossoms into its true potential of holiness. “Ve-yik’chu Li terumah” – “they will take for Me a donation”, or perhaps we can homiletically render, “they will sprout forth for Me, separated for some higher purpose”.
Just as we take HaShem as our G-d, so He takes us as His nation. In the words of one of the liturgical poems recited in each of the five Yom Kippur services, “We are Your nation and You are our G-d…we are Your nation and You are our King, we are Your distinguished ones and You are our Distinguished”.
The Magen David – the Shield of David – contains two triangles, one pointing upwards and the other downwards, representing Israel reaching upwards to G-d and G-d reaching downwards to Israel. The two Cherubim atop the Ark facing each other (Exodus 25:18-20) likewise represent G-d and Israel reaching for one another (see Bava Batra 99a; Zohar, Ra’aya Meheimna Volume 3 [Numbers], Parashat Pinchas 235a).
Only with the Mishkan – in our time, only with the Holy Temple – can Israel and G-d truly become united. Perhaps the most critical task that we have today as a nation is to rebuild the Holy Temple atop of the Temple Mount. If we strive upwards, G-d will assuredly descend to meet us.