“Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah” – Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah 1:1.
Where we are at now in the Torah, is a place where we are coming out of everything being taken care for us, being taken out of Egypt, the splitting of the sea, even our food (the manna), we didn’t have to do anything, as if we were children, because we are, the Children of Israel. We were just given everything. This parsha (Terumah) teaches us how to give and the only way to grow is to give. The parsha (weekly Torah reading) goes into great detail over laws of how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this includes precise measurements, and the three kinds of Terumah;
Shekalim – annual contribution of half a Shekel
The one time payment of half a shekel to provide for the sockets (adanim) for the sanctuary
And finally, the materials and coverings for the sanctuary which was also a one time contribution.
In the Mishnah Torah (Matnot Aniyim – Chapter 7) it says, “Even a poor person who derives his livelihood from charity is obligated to give charity to another person.” You would think only people that have more than they need should give tzedaka (charity) to people in need, but for someone in need to also be obligated to give, seems counter-productive. But tzedaka isn’t only physical, it’s psychological. The best way to give charity is when the giver does not know to whom they give, and the recipient does not know from whom they receive.
Greater than that though, according to the Rambam, is “to fortify a fellow Jew and give them a gift, a loan, form with them a partnership, or find work for them, until they are strong enough so that they do not need to ask others [for sustenance].” This doesn’t sound like charity in the traditional sense, but it’s the highest form because along with giving, it bestoys hope and dignity. And as Rabbi Sacks says, even more than the product was the process, summed up in the word that gives our parsha its name, Terumah, meaning, a gift, a contribution, an offering. The parsha is telling us something very profound. Giving confers dignity. Receiving does not.
I haven’t known anyone more dignified or giving than my kids’ Bubbie, Yehudis Chava bat Yakov. This Shabbat (Terumah) is her Yartziet (one year since passed). When I think of her, I think of tzedaka in all its forms with loving kindness (chesed), something she exemplified to an angelic degree. She was someone so full of life, love, warmth, and light at every turn, every single moment, it inspired me to be more loving, more giving, more full of a zest for each moment in life and she had so many blissful ones with all her 11 kids and their children.
The parsha starts with Hashem (God) speaking to Moshe telling him to speak to the children of Israel to have them take for him a Terumah offering and it adds for every man whose heart impels him shall you take “My Terumah offering”.
Rambam breaks down the eight levels of charity, and the lowest one being when one gives unwillingly. Here Hashem instructs Moshe to have the children of Israel give charity, but emphasizes from those whose heart impels them to do so. Because what you are willing to give, from your heart with faith, is how much you are willing to bring Hashem down into the world.
When you give tzedakah, say you see a poor person in the street, they are sad, distraught, no hope, on the brink of feeling as if they were dead, when you give them tzedakah from the heart, you are literally giving them life, and hope. You can see it in their being, they go from darkness and despair to light and happiness. So, the money aspect of tzedaka is one part and it is needed, but when you give it from the heart, that is the part that elevates both that person and yourself. Yourself because it mamtik hadin, its sweetest judgement to truly give from the heart. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) it says, “When there will be a poor person amongst you…do not tighten your heart and do not close up your hand in front of your poor brother. Rather, open your hand to him….”.
The Arizal teaches (Eitz Chaim 1:1) that Creation came about because Hashem desires to give. Therefore the natural state of being is one in which chesed-the bounteous and unlimited influx of Hashem’s life and kindness flows freely into the world, unhampered by either sin or dinim (judgement). One of the major ways to sweeten judgement (Hamtakat Hadinim) is tzedaka as it transforms dinim into chessed (loving-kindness).
In Mishlie (Proverbs) it says, “There is one who gives generously yet ends with more.” Focusing on what you don’t have over what you do often blocks the blessings you can get. Focusing on what you can give, you turn yourself into a vessel for receiving. The Zohar (book of Jewish mystical secrets) says that darkness isn’t an entity unto itself, it is the absence of light. And if darkness is the absence of light, then a little bit of light, a little bit of love will illuminate a lot of darkness. Like The Beatles said, the love you take is equal to the love you make.