I’m troubled by the first verse in this week’s Torah portion, T’rumah. “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.”
This last part of the sentence, “…from every person whose heart so moves him,” seems to contradict a Talmudic statement: “Greater than the person who doesn’t feel commanded and does, is the one who does feel commanded, and does.” (Rabbi Chanina, Kidushin 31A)
Which needs some clarification itself. It seems to be saying that one who does a deed out of obligation is more meritorious than the one who does it voluntarily. But don’t we find more commendable the person who isn’t forced to do something, but does it on one’s own volition?
But the one who does something because the spirit moves him, could just as easily decide the spirit isn’t moving him anymore. One who feels obligated will do the deed every time, whether one feels like it or not. It gets done.
And yet, in our Torah portion, God is asking for gifts only from those whose heart so moves them. Why not make it mandatory? Make it a mitzvah–a divine commandment that must be done!
And then I thought about the nature of a gift, and how different it is from those mitzvot of the Torah that God feels are important enough to make requirements.
Gifts reflect a mood of the giver. Gifts represent a feeling that one wishes to impart to the receiver. “I’m happy for you on your special day.” “I like you.” “You are important to me.” “I’m proud of you.”
People need tzedakah. Institutions need monetary help. Animals need protection. It doesn’t matter with what spirit it is given. It must be required. It needs to be done.
A gift, on the other hand, should be given out of affection and therefore can’t be mandated. When we give gifts to each other, or to God, how we feel matters, even more than the gift itself.
We need both. We need to feel obligated to perform mitzvot. And we just need to feel, for a gift to be meaningful.
To paraphrase an ancient rabbinic adage: That which comes from the heart, enters the heart.
-Rabbi David Vorspan, Rabbi-in-Residence.