Parashat Teruma: Pure Charity, Pure Misvot
Parashat Teruma begins with Hashem’s command to Beneh Yisrael to bring materials for the construction of the Mishkan. This marked the first “appeal” in Jewish history, and was also, without question, the most successful. As we read later, in Parashat Vayakhel, the people responded so generously that Moshe had to instruct them to stop donating, as the donations had already exceeded the amounts needed for the Mishkan.
Significantly, this command of “Ve’yikhu Li Teruma,” to bring donations for the Mishkan, is preceded by Parashat Mishpatim, which is devoted mainly to the Torah’s system of civil law. Much of the Torah’s code of ethical civil conduct appears in Parashat Mishpatim. It discusses issues such as fairness, honesty, proper treatment of employees, responsibility for other people’s property, and other principles of ethical interpersonal conduct. Significantly, the Torah presents the concept of “Teruma,” of giving donations for important religious causes, only after it presented its basic code of ethics. Some Rabbis explained that the Torah thereby teaches us that one cannot reach the level of “Teruma,” of donating money, before he has committed himself to “Mishpatim,” to the principles of ethical behavior. All too often, people mistakenly justify unethical business practices on the basis of their generous donations to charity and religious institutions. They feel it is legitimate to earn money unethically if large sums of that money will go to support Rabbis, Yeshivot and synagogues. This is a terrible mistake. Parashat Mishpatim must always precede Parashat Teruma. God does not want His institutions supported by ill-begotten gains. He wants us to first and foremost be ethical people, and only then give generously to synagogues, Yeshivot and other worthy causes.
In truth, this applies generally to all areas of religious life. The Halachic rule of “Misva Ha’ba’a Ba’abera” (“a Misva resulting from a sin”) establishes that if a person commits a sin in order to facilitate the performance of a Misva, he does not fulfill the Misva. The classic case of this principle, as the Gemara discusses at length, is that of a person who steals a Lulab in order to fulfill the Misva of Arba Minim on Sukkot. A person who steals for the sake of a Misva does not fulfill the Misva. It is preferable not to perform the Misva at all than to perform the Misva by committing a sin.
One area where people – often unknowingly – try to perform a Misva through committing a sin is the area of Tocheha, criticism and rebuke. People think they do God a favor by condescendingly insulting and denigrating their peers who follow a lower religious standard. But this type of conduct, too, is a “Misva Ha’ba’a Ba’abera” – a Misva facilitated by a sin. Insulting a fellow Jew is forbidden, and it serves only to further distance him or her from Torah observance. This grave transgression cannot possibly be justified as part of the performance of a Misva. It is far preferable to avoid giving Tocheha altogether than to criticize people in an insulting manner.
Just as the money we donate to charity must be pure, so must all the Misvot we perform be pure. We may not steal money to give charity, and we must not violate any Torah command for the sake a Misva. By keeping our Misvot pure we ensure that they will be lovingly accepted by God and bring great merit to ourselves, our families and all Am Yisrael.